It should be right up there with “please’ and ‘thank you’, but for some, the simple act of saying ‘sorry’ is nearly impossible.
Learning to say sorry (sincerely) is a sign of emotional intelligence. It can turn despair into acceptance and fury into forgiveness. In fact, there is quite a lot of power and freedom wrapped up in that little word.
Mistakes are human – we all make them. However, not everyone has the ability to own and acknowledge their blunders. This can lead to emotional and behavioural issues.
Teaching this important life skill to children at an early age could make all the difference to their future decisions and relationships.
I always find it interesting that many people have no issue apologising when they accidentally bump into a stranger on the street, yet find it impossible to say sorry when they make a mistake closer to home – such as a tactless remark to a friend or family member.
This could be because we all accept some mistakes are inevitable while others come with the added insult of embarrassment and judgment.
WHEN SORRY SEEMS TO BE THE HARDEST WORD
It seems the physical blunders – that bump into a stranger or breaking someone’s favourite vase – are more acceptable than errors of judgement. While annoying and perhaps expensive (if you intend to replace that broken vase), physical mistakes can clearly be identified as accidents (assuming, of course, that they actually are).
Errors of judgment, on the other hand, can be misinterpreted as intended to be harmful. In other words – not a mistake. When we say sorry, we’re letting the other person know that our intent was not to cause harm but the error was due to another circumstance – overtired, distracted, angry about something else, a misunderstanding, etc.
SAY SORRY STORY – PICTURE THIS
Young Sally is wildly swinging her arms around and breaks her mother’s favourite vase. Mum might be angry, but she knows the breakage was caused by carelessness and not designed to make her angry or hurt her. It was clearly a mistake and Mum might choose to let it go, adopting the ‘kids will be kids’ attitude. This, of course, teaches Sally nothing. Or, aside from urging Sally to say sorry, Mum might even claim some of her pocket money to pay for a replacement.
This teaches her;
- To own the mistake – perhaps the most important part of the process. When you acknowledge your fault you stop searching for other people, things and circumstances to blame. This is empowering and leads to excellent self-growth.
- Responsibility – it’s vital to teach children that all actions have consequences. The good actions are rewarded, the intentional bad actions are often punished and mistakes should be rectified (such as saving pocket money to replace the broken vase). By doing whatever is possible to rectify the mistake, the child is less apt to repeat it but also learns it doesn’t spell the ‘end of the world’. This will make it easier for the child to be honest about future mistakes (we continue to make them our whole lives) instead of being deceitful about them.
- Apologising spells freedom – having the child say sorry will not mend that broken vase, but it sends a clear message and acknowledgement to Mum that she didn’t mean to do it and she will try to be more careful in the future. This gives them both the freedom to move on.
SAY SORRY STORY – NOW PICTURE THIS
Young Sally has had a tough night with nightmares and not much sleep. She’s overtired and cranky by the time she gets to school. Her best friend, Rosie, wants to play but Sally doesn’t. Instead of telling her friend she’s tired and doesn’t want to play (she hasn’t fully learned to identify and communicate her feelings) Sally says she’s sick of playing her silly games and that Rosie is no good at them anyway. Rosie is deeply hurt and the friendship is over.
There is often some truth in words of anger that were never meant to be voiced. Perhaps Sally had been feeling some resentment that Rosie always chose the games they played and perhaps Rosie really sucked at playing them. Maybe Sally was feeling the need to make new friends. However, expressing those feelings when she was tired and cranky made her words cruel. That was her error in judgement.
When Sally returns from school she tells Mum that she and Rosie are no longer friends. Mum asks what happened and is then faced with two choices. She can tell Sally that she’ll make better friends and not worry about it. This teaches Sally nothing. Or she can help Sally identify and acknowledge her error in judgment and the cause of it. Then, encourage her to say sorry the next day, even if there is no guarantee that Rosie will accept the apology or resume the friendship.
This teaches her;
- Self-knowledge – the ability to understand her own feelings and her reactions to them. Self-knowledge is a powerful tool.
- Apologising is not a fix-all solution – saying sorry cannot mend everything. Cruel words cannot be unsaid and often spell the end of friendships. A consequence of the mistake.
- Courage – it takes courage and emotional intelligence to front up to someone you have inadvertently hurt and apologise. Particularly when you can’t predict what their response will be. It is, however, the right thing to do. I’ve known people in their 60s who don’t have this kind of courage.
- Freedom in a word – saying sorry may not mend a broken friendship. But it can take some of the sting out of the error in judgement, freeing the other person to move on. More than that, it frees the person who made the mistake. Those who refuse to say sorry are often forced to lay blame on the other person to justify their words or actions. They hold onto negative emotions that will affect other parts of their lives when a simple sorry could set them free.
TEACHING KIDS EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE
Emotional intelligence affects all aspects of life, including physical and mental health, school or work performance and relationships.
Key indicators of emotional intelligence are;
- Self-awareness – your ability to understand your emotions, your strengths and weaknesses.
- Self-control – being able to control your response to situations and manage your emotions in healthy ways.
- Empathy – your ability to understand other people’s emotions and needs.
- Relationship management – your ability to communicate clearly, inspire others and manage conflict.
- Self-confidence – which includes the ability to own your mistakes, forgive yourself for them and do your best to rectify them. If you’d like to learn more about confidence in children read How to Create a Confident Kid.
Some people are born with emotional intelligence. Others are not, but the good news is it can be learned. Parents are in a unique position to influence their children and promote the qualities that represent emotional intelligence.
One of the best opportunities to do this is when a child makes a mistake. Helping your child to own that mistake, discover why they made it in the first place, accept the consequences and do their bit to rectify it are wonderful ways to promote self-awareness, self-control, empathy and relationship management.
Resist the urge to ‘rescue’ your child. Instead, help them to understand that everyone makes mistakes. How you choose to deal with those mistakes is what really counts.
Explain that the apology only counts if it is sincere and expresses regret and the promise not to repeat it.
To borrow the words of Paulo Coelho “And a mistake repeated more than once is a decision.”
Wishing you a gleeful week, Tamuria.