Quick TipDon’t Tell Your Kids to Say, “I’m Sorry”

Happy Mother And Daughter

I’m sorry, but this 4 minute NPR story about APOLOGIZING got my attention, and I believe it deserves yours – really, every parent needs to hear this!!

It offers research to reinforce a tenet I’ve held since my kids were little: we should NOT be telling our kids to apologize just because it’s the right thing to do. If they don’t really feel it, we’re actually teaching them to be disingenuous. Instead, we want to encourage them to feel confident enough to apologize.

Here’s the simple explanation, though I really recommend you listen to the story:

Apologies are hard for everyone to do, even when they’re completely rational – and even when they’re in the best interest of the person being asked to apologize.

When you apologize, you do feel better – sometimes. But refusing to apologize ALSO makes people feel good — sometimes, even better than apologizing. According to the research, refusing to apologize can actually increase feelings of status and integrity. It can be empowering.

And that’s the case EVEN if you know you should apologize!

People avoid apologizing because they feel disempowered – out of control. And refusing to apologize restores a sense of power.

It turns out that “being able to apologize is not a sign of weakness. It is actually a sign of strength. Because if you look at the people who find it difficult to apologize, it’s people who feel threatened, people who feel an apology would somehow make them extremely vulnerable.”

Like children, perhaps?

Our first instinct is to coerce kids into an apology – which threatens them and makes them feel further out of control. But “if you’re actually trying to change people’s behavior,” says NPR’s Shankar Vedantam, “love and support might be more effective.”

So next time you want to tell your child to “say I’m sorry,” consider a coach-approach. Ask your child, “do you feel sorry about this?” and look for nod or acknowledge of any kind. If so, encourage him in the process, “I know it’s hard to do, but do you want to say you’re sorry?” If he says yes, acknowledge THAT. “Awesome – I know it took a lot of bravery to say you’re sorry. Way to go!” If no, then continue the conversation because there’s something else going on you might want to understand better.

Bottom line: apologizing is a personal choice, and a great place to empower kids by encouraging them to make the choice to take responsibility for their actions.

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