BY JANN BALL, DIRECTOR OF THE COMPEER PROGRAM, CHAUTAUQUA COUNTY
How many times a day do you say, I’m sorry but…” or as a parent tell one of your children, “Now say you’re sorry!” Has I’m sorry lost it’s meaning by overuse? What outcome is expected by saying I’m sorry? Has it become a catch phrase to cover a multitude of mistakes that we really don’t intend to seriously address?
How do we model for our children the concept of sorry? If we say we are sorry, but don’t change the behavior we are sorry for, does it end up negating the meaning? If you are always sorry you are late, how valid is the sorry? If you are apt to be verbally sharp with your children frequently, and later say you are sorry, but the incidence of yelling doesn’t decrease, how does that show our children that you are sorry? If a mistake is made over and over again, does sorry really apply?
I will never forget taking a course on Parent Empowerment years ago and what the instructor said regarding possible outcomes of saying “sorry” could be depending on the circumstances. The information shocked me to the core, as I had never thought of it. (This was years ago and I am sure I am not repeating this exactly as presented, but this is the gist of what he said). He said that many time a physical abuser will think it is ok to hit, because after all, he/she said they were sorry afterwards and the person being abused somehow may feel that if the person was sorry, that it was OK. That really made me do some serious thinking on the ramifications of saying, “I’m sorry.”
Of course being sorry and expressing sorrow is very important and needs to be taught and encouraged. But what are ways to do so and also what is appropriate for different ages? Little children may not understand the concept of being sorry, and older children may not want to own up to their mistakes. Teach them to verbalize their wrong behavior: “It was wrong to hit,” I shouldn’t have taken the cookie.” Another way to help sorry really mean something is to teach your children to take responsibility and make amends if possible.
Learning to express genuine sorrow over a mistake, wrong choice, or misbehavior and accepting responsibility for actions will go a long way in helping a child as they encounter the daily ups and downs of life. Forgiveness for an action is a vital part of the equation of wrong and sorry. We want our children to be gracious and accept apologies. The best way for them to learn that is to model the power of forgiveness ourselves. As parents we will make mistakes, and need to apologize to our children. When our children experience an apology from us it helps them to learn we all make mistakes and the best way to deal with them is with an apology, restitution if needed and forgiveness. Apologies can also open up discussion and offer ways to resolve conflicts.
Keeping the mindset of pointing out good behavior and commenting on positive actions may reduce the need to express “I’m sorry.” Enjoy and embrace the things that our children do that show kindness, consideration and thoughtfulness and comment on that and maybe, just maybe we won’t need to focus as much on “I’m sorry.”
Jann Ball is the Director of the Compeer Program in Chautauqua County that provides friendship to youth and adults experiencing mental health difficulties. Jann resides in Falconer with her husband Marshall and son Michael.