Social Skills For Children Part One: Apologizing

Never underestimate the healing power of a sincere apology. This social skill is one that children (and adults) would really benefit from doing well. The technique is easy...you begin by swallowing your pride.

"I'm sorry if your feelings were hurt." "I'm sorry that you misunderstood me." "I'm sorry but I just tell it like it is."


I'm sorry if. I'm sorry that you. I'm sorry but. What do all of these apologies have in common? They are not apologies at all. Truthfully, these statements are not intended to be apologies. When the speaker uses them these words are meant to be excuses. In fact, they are excuses which, ultimately, put the blame for the wrong that was done squarely on the shoulders of the one that was wronged. These false apologies hurt and yet the one who offers one walks away feeling quite good about themselves. "I apologized." they reason. "I said I was sorry."


How many times have you said something that you wished you had left unsaid or done something you wish you had left undone? I have done both of these. Several times. And I learned through experience and careful observation that there is only one way to heal yourself and the one you injured. Offer a sincere apology. Not an "I'm sorry but" or an "I'm sorry if", but an apology.


I learned many years ago what a real apology is. I learned it when a young child, six or seven years old, was instructed by his mother to apologize to me for some long forgotten infraction. I was a guest in their home; the most loving and beautifully run home I have ever visited. I remember even now what a warm and gentle atmosphere that precious family had developed in their home. I know now that it was partially due to the fact that all of them, all seven of the children and both adults, had learned how to apologize to one another when conflicts arose. And conflicts will arise.


I was to speak at the church that the father of this family was the pastor to, and I'm sure that one of their little ones said or did something that was considered impolite. I honestly don't remember. What I do remember is that his kind mother quietly told him to apologize to me. The little one immediately turned to face me, looked at my face and said that he was very sorry. And then he said something that took my breath away: "Will you forgive me?"


"Of course I forgive you, sweetheart." I responded with a hug and a full heart. The child skipped away to play with his siblings and to get ready to leave for church. It was the most beautiful and genuine apology I had ever received. This event has stayed in my mind for all these years and I realize now that it contained all the elements of healing. Little children often show us a better way to understand things that, to an adult mind, seem deep or complex.


Time has gone by and I have come to realize that a great deal of pain in relationships and communities could be repaired if everyone involved knew what this little child and all his siblings knew. How to apologize. I have worked through and analyzed the elements of a true apology and I am fairly sure that I have narrowed it down to a few easy to follow steps:


Children can easily learn these steps and they should. The ability to apologize is an important piece of all relationships throughout life. The sooner that a child can learn how to apologize for their mistakes the more smoothly their life will run. We all make mistakes, but the ones who succeed are the ones who can own their mistakes and then apologize for them. Correctly. Here is what a genuine apology looks like:


  1. Recognize that your words or actions hurt someone. Own this.Look at that one fact without any excuses or avoidance. Admit this failing to God and then to yourself.

  2. Approach in person if at all possible. Go out of your way to make this possible if you have to. A phone call is the next best thing. Written communication is not appropriate.

  3. Look at the one you hurt and say, "I'm so sorry that I _______." Then let them talk.Which means you stop talking. Do not add anything to the statement that you are sorry. If you use the words "but" or "if" you have completely negated the apology and you'll have to start over.

  4. After the other person has has their say, you then speak these healing words, "Will you forgive me?" This allows for all parties involved to participate in the healing process. These words truly hold a remarkable power to soften hard hears.


And that is that. It doesn't sound all that difficult, does it? So why don't people do it more often? I believe that is because we are all born with the nature to sin, and the greatest, most basic sin is pride. Pride tells us that we don't have to say we are sorry. Remember this: pride, like all sin, is a liar. You do need to apologize sincerely for the wrongs you do. So does your child. Teach your child these steps to healing as early as you can. They will reap great rewards from it. Trust me!


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