Good Manners Run in the Family

Making an apology is more than simply getting a difficult chore out of the way. It can be the first step toward rebuilding a damaged relationship. It can allay your own lingering feelings of guilt and remorse. Everyone makes a mistake once in a while, and everyone hurts another person somewhere along the line, whether intentionally or accidentally. Children should learn how to apologize early, and you're the one to teach them. Just remember that children model their parents' behavior, so set a good example. In fact, being a role model is about the best training you can give a child. If your children see that you can apologize with grace, they'll be likely to copy your behavior. All you need for teaching-by-example is sincerity, humility and a dollop of courage.


A Case in Point

You've hurt someone (call him Mr. X), be it physically or emotionally. You feel awful about it and want to make it right. Be straightforward. Neither "So sorry if I hurt your feelings"or "Mistakes were made" is acceptable. You're not making excuses; you're here to express regret. Even if you believe Mr. X was equally at fault, own your part of the incident. If Mr. X is compelled to offer his own apology in turn, he'll do it. If not, not.

Listen to Mr. X. Give him a chance to relate his version of the event, and even if you remember it differently, try to understand his point of view. Let him get it all out; don't dispute his memory, at least not while emotions are still running high.

Try to make amends. Ask what you can do to help make Mr. X feel better about your continued friendship, but don't force anything on him. If possible, try to engineer something that is relevant to the original offense. Did you skip out on a dinner date? Maybe arranging another meal at another, fancier restaurant might be a welcome idea.

Tell Mr. X that you will try the best you can to never repeat your mistake. Mean it. Follow through on it. However, if your mistake is entangled in drugs or alcohol, don't promise to stop. Promise to get help, and then go out and get it. You'll feel better about yourself.

Give Mr. X the opportunity to forgive you, but don't force it or even ask for forgiveness directly. That would be up to him. Sometimes it takes a while for feelings to simmer down. Mr. X may have to mull it over before he decides that you've atoned enough. By apologizing, you have already made a big step in rebuilding your relationship. Now you may even be able to forgive yourself.


Apologizing to a Child

Have you ever made a mistake in parenting that you felt guilty about? Let's say you put your child's comic book collection into your yard sale that began on a Friday morning. It sold right away. You don't know the buyer's name. but he mentioned that he was from out-of-town. Your boy comes home from school and discovers he's missing his comic book stash, and there's a very slim chance that he'll ever recover it. He is very, very angry. It doesn't matter if you think he's too old now for comic books, and that is not your defense.

Should you apologize to your child? Yes, if you made an error in judgment that you feel bad about (such as the premature burial of his comic books). "But I didn't know they were so important!" you say. "My child will think less of me if I say I'm sorry!" you think. In fact, research shows that children are proud of parents who have the courage to apologize. Kids think that such generosity of heart shows strength, understanding and honesty.


When Kids Are Reluctant to Apologize

Even with the best role-modeling, some kids will be recalcitrant when it comes to making apologies, especially when they're certain of their own righteousness. "But Jimmy didn't play fair! Why should I apologize to him?" wails your youngster about a playground impasse. Admittedly, the kid has a point, but Jimmy is also positive of his own righteousness in the matter.

Obviously, something's got to give. but don't immediately frog-march your child into a forced apology. He'll know it's fake, and Jimmy will know it's fake too. Instead, take your son aside and talk to him about what happened. Get his side of the story and then try to see if he can put himself in Jimmy's shoes. Ask, "how would you feel if something like this happened to you?"

Let this encounter be an exercise in empathy. Ask your son if he can think of anything he could have done differently to avoid the conflict with Jimmy. Even if your child is resolute in his insistence that it wasn't his fault, you can point out that no matter whose fault it was, Jimmy's feelings are still hurt and he's suffering. Appeal to your child to think of ways he might help Jimmy feel better (a handwritten note? a manly handshake? a trip to the ice cream shop?).

Whatever you do, assure your boy that he is loved. Even though he was out of line, he's not a "bad" boy. If he does make an apology to Jimmy, let him know you're proud of him for making Jimmy feel better.

Empathy and compassion are what apologies are all about. Everyone needs a reminder now and then that it's good to take a peek at the world through another person's eyes.