Rather than forcing your tween to say “sorry” grudgingly and without conviction, DR RICHARD C. WOOLFSON offers a smarter solution to dealing with sincere apologies.
"Making amends is not about punishment, it is about forging a connection in your child’s mind between her behaviour and its consequences."
Even if your child apologises for something she has done, you may feel that she isn’t sincere, that she only said the words because she knows that’s what you want to hear.
That’s why you should discuss the problem with her rather than simply insist that she says those two simple words. Saying “sorry” should come afterwards.
Explain why you think her behaviour is unacceptable. Maybe she shouted at her younger brother unnecessarily, perhaps you caught her watching her tablet long after she told you she had put it away and was working on her homework, or it could be that she was cheeky to you when you asked her to tidy her room.
Whatever the offence, chat with her about her actions and talk about their impact on you and on anyone else involved. She’s less likely to repeat that behaviour in the future if she understands what she has done wrong.
The blame game
Your tween might try to blame others, claiming that you should be speaking to them, not her. For instance, she might say that she pushed her friend because he pushed her first, or that she took a pencil from her classmate’s bag because she thinks that same pupil took a pencil from her bag earlier in the day.
And these explanations may even be accurate. Listen to what she has to say, let her see that you understand her perspective, and then make it clear that two wrongs don’t make a right.
Tell her clearly, calmly and firmly that even if she feels her retaliation was justified and that she was a victim too, that is not an excuse for her antisocial behaviour.
Encourage your primary schooler to make amends if there has been physical damage. For example, if she messed up her younger sibling’s bedroom because she was annoyed with him, she could tidy it up.
Or if she carelessly broke an ornament, she could contribute some of her pocket money towards its replacement.
Making amends is not about punishment, it is about forging a connection in your child’s mind between her behaviour and its consequences. The closer that this physical demonstration of her regret is to the misbehaviour, the better.
This type of reparation isn’t always possible, but when the opportunity arises, encourage her to do it.
Say it like you mean it
After she has repaired any damage she has done, her apology is likely to be more sincere than it might be if it was simply a knee-jerk reaction to your anger. The most effective apologies are the ones that demonstrate her broader understanding.
For example, you’ll feel better if she says “I’m sorry for upsetting you. I didn’t mean to be rude, and I won’t do it again” rather than just saying, “I’m sorry.” Help your child formulate her apology if she struggles to find the words.
Once she has expressed remorse, draw a line under that episode and move on. However, point out to your tween that you’ll really be convinced by her apology when you see that she doesn’t do the same again in future.
ILLUSTRATION CHENG PUAY KOON