(Photo via artethgray, Flickr Creative Commons)
Recently a friend of mine posted a faith-based article entitled “Should I make my child apologize” on social media, and I had the privilege to respectfully and honestly dialogue with her on-line.
Since the issue of manners and morality is one that concerns all parents, secular or religious, I thought I’d invite you all to join in the virtual conversation with my friend and me through today’s blog post.
My hope is that this post is filled with respect and humility since I know the topic of disciplining children is a sensitive one.
I want to reiterate that the purpose of this post (and, the blog as a whole) is to process my own parenting journey and to explain to others the “why” behind the decisions D. and I have made for our family.
I also hope that everything I write here serves to prompt an honest and authentic dialogue with any reader who might feel led to comment.
So, let’s jump right to it! Should we make our children apologize (or, say please and thank you, or share, etc.)?
According to the article’s author, Jen Wilkin, “…we teach our children the language they need to interact with others well before they have any real concept of why such language is necessary and good. Because of this, I would answer the question ‘Should I require my child to apologize?’ with an emphatic ‘Yes.’”
(Photo via Leyram Odecram, Flickr Creative Commons)
First, to the author’s point of “teaching” our children and how young children learn, and how that connects to the word “teaching” (from the Latin “disciple”/”discipline”).
As a former high school teacher, I know that rote repetition and memorization are not the only (and, often not the best) way to learn. Before I would teach my students a topic, I would study them first to determine their unique needs, personalities, and ways of learning. (For my Christian readers: Jesus essentially did the same with his “disciples:” they literally lived and breathed with him for three years to learn his teachings; it was through his life and example that they learned. It was a process that took time.)
If, based on my observations, I concluded that my students learned best using their hands (tactile) or body (kinesthetic), then I would “teach” them through a manipulative or full-body activity. In the same way, as a mother I must first observe and study my “students,” or my children, to understand how they best learn.
We know that young children, say ages 0-7, which is what the author of this article is saying, learn through experience and their five senses. So, as a mother of young children, I ask myself, “what is the best way to “teach” my children how to ____ (fill in the blank with any and everything from head knowledge (colors, numbers, etc.) to practical life skills (getting dressed) to moral behavior (apologizing, gratitude, sharing, etc.)?”
And, the answer is: I do it; I speak it; I model it; I live it.
“These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7. New International Version)
When D. makes dinner, I thank him. When I pass a neighbor on the street, I greet her. When my friend drops her purse, I bend down to pick it up. When I encounter a homeless man on the street, I stop and buy him a meal. When the grocer asks if I need help to my car, I respond yes, please. I bless each meal with E. I pray for her each night at bed.
This method is not only modeling. It’s “teaching.”
And, it’s teaching the way my students (i.e., my children) best learn.
Do I want E. and J. to eventually share their possessions, and apologize when they’ve hurt someone, and say please and thank you? Of course I do!
Key word: “Eventually.” In their own time.
That requires trust. And a lot of it. Trusting that my children see and hear EVERYTHING I do and say. Trusting that my modeling will rub off on them. (As a Christian) Trusting that God is the only one with the power to change their hearts for good.
Being a daily – and authentic – example of remorse, repentance, honesty, humility, or gratitude is a much more challenging task for parents than requiring our children to repeat the words I’m sorry “…before they have any real concept of why such language is necessary and good.”
(Photo via MAJ Aaron Haney, Flickr Creative Commons)
Second, to the author’s point of “requiring” our children to apologize (to this I would add requiring them to share or say please/thank you).
I would argue that the author is submitting her children to a standard that not even God requires of His children (me!). Although God has the ability and power to force me to do anything He wants, in his gracious love and mercy He doesn’t because He loves me and wants me to choose Him and to choose to obey Him of my own free will. We are not automatons; we are humans. So, why would I submit my own young children to a different standard?
Theology aside, let me speak practically now.
I’ve noticed that when I’m tempted to force E. to apologize, say for hitting another child at the park, it’s based on fear, fear that the other parents on the playground will think I’m permissive, or fear that my child will never learn to not hit. Or, it’s based on a need to control my child’s behavior. But, we can’t and don’t control our children.
RIE blogger and author Janet Lansbury puts it so well: “To truly apologize requires empathy, and empathy develops in its own way and time, at a different pace for each child. So, often the child is not developmentally ready to understand, much less own the words she’s saying….What worries me most is the child who, because his caregiver has pushed him to always say ‘sorry,’ receives the message that apologizing fixes everything. He punches another child, but as long as he says, “I’m sorry,“ he’s excused and can move on, or even do it again. We are wrong to believe we teach empathy by forcing an insincere apology.” (Article source)
Although there are paragraphs more I could write on this topic, I’ll end here for now by saying that I’m reminded that when it comes to teaching manners and morality to my children, I need to get the proverbial log out of my own eye before I worry about the speck in my two-year old’s eye (to paraphrase Jesus).
“Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.” ~James Baldwin
Agree or disagree with what you’ve read today? I’d love to hear from you!
Interested in reading more on the topic of children and morality, both from a secular and faith-based perspective? Please check out these wonderful articles!
“Say your Sorry!” (I LOVE this article!)
Parenting is first about my sin (faith-based article)