My husband and I kind of disagree on this issue: whether to tell our child to say “sorry” after she does something inappropriate (like hits one of us). He thinks it’s something that needs to be specifically taught and encouraged, whereas I think making a child say it makes it not-authentic. I get his reasoning. But since I’m the one writing this, not him, I’m going to expand on my point of view:
I want my daughter to say “sorry” when she hurts someone. I really do. She already knows how to say the word, and generally says it at appropriate times (like after accidentally…or even purposefully, haha… spilling something, or bumping into someone, etc). But she didn’t learn to say it through us telling her to, she learned to say it because we say it to her, and to each other. We say “I’m sorry” to our daughter when she wants something, or wants to do something, and we can’t get it or do it at that time. Naturally, she becomes upset, and so we apologize and offer an alternative. We say “I’m sorry” if we say something we don’t mean out of anger. We say “I’m sorry” when we accidentally ruin something of someone’s, or bump into each other.
Some of these examples I’ve just mentioned don’t necessarily warrant an apology all the time, but it’s certainly polite to get in the habit of acknowledging when you’ve inconvenienced someone.
But recently our daughter, who is nearly 3, started hitting us. Hard. When she becomes angry and very upset it’s not wise to have your face near her. When these situations happen, the last thing I want to do is react in anger and force her to say “sorry” to me (even though that is exactly what I feel like doing). Instead, I notice how upset she is, and understand that attempting to force her to say a word to me is not going to help her with her anger at all. It’s not going to encourage her to be authentic, and it’s not encouraging her to fix a problem or take responsibility for something. But we don’t want to just leave the situation and ignore the behavior. After all, we’re trying to help her manage her feelings in a socially appropriate and emotionally healthy way.
I thought about what an appropriate thing to do after hurting someone would be. Even if you’re still angry at the person. Since saying “sorry” might not be the right thing, because you might not mean it at that moment. I figured that if I’ve hurt someone, if I’ve said something out of anger and I know I’ve hurt another’s feelings, even if I’m still angry the first thing I would do would be to make sure they are ok. I might not be ready to apologize, but I can certainly ask them if they are alright.
So, this is what I’m teaching our daughter. When she hits one of us, or lashes out physically in anger, hurting one of us, I encourage her to see if the person she’s hurt is ok. “Can you please see if Daddy is ok? You hit him in the eye, and that hurts.”
Sometimes she resists. And that’s ok…she’s still upset and not ready to say anything. But no matter how long it takes, we make sure she is making sure the person she hurt is ok. No “Say you’re sorry.” Just, “Can you make sure he’s ok? You hit him and it hurt.”
This encourages her to understand that her actions have an effect on others. She won’t fully grasp this concept for awhile yet, but this is a step in that direction. It encourages ownership of one’s actions, and responsibility for making something right. That’s, ultimately, one of my main goals as a parent raising a socially responsible, empathic adult.
One of these situations happened the other night, after she became upset with me, and hit me in the face. I had been holding her, and after she did it I set her down and told her that it hurt, and that I did not like being hit. She became even more upset and left the room for a moment. When she came back, she tried to get my husband to come with her to her room to play. He, instead, replied: “You hit Mom and it hurt her. Can you see if she’s ok?” She yelled at us, then came over to me and tried to get me to come with her to play. I told her that I would love to, but told her that my cheek hurt, and if she could see if I was ok. Another minute or so she looked at my cheek and asked, “You ok mommy?” And then you know what she did? She asked if I needed a hug. Yes. Yes let’s hug, and now let’s go play. 🙂