What is a True Apology

An Apology: Turning Wrongs into Rights

This story comes from one of our 3-year-old classrooms. What a great message and learning experience from our young people!

Here is the scene:

*Friends are playing on the playground with the Pre-School classes when a child is walking around the playground by themselves and walks up to the teacher.*

Child: Teacher, no one wants to be my friend today.

Ms. Claire: Oh, I’m sure someone would love to be your friend! Have you asked anyone if they want to play with you?

Child: I asked them but they said they didn’t want to play with me.

Ms. Claire: Did you ask them WHY they didn’t want to play with you?

Child: (Pauses for a moment of thought) I did not! I’ll be right back!

*a few moments later*

Child: Teacher, I went to ask them and they said they didn’t want to play with me because I’ve been hitting them and not a very nice friend today.

Ms. Claire: Ohhh… Well, I don’t really like it when my friends hit me either. Do you remember there are two parts to sorry? You have to SAY you’re sorry then you have to SHOW you’re sorry. Maybe you can ask them how you can fix it.

Child: Okay! (The child ran off to play with other friends from another class but you could tell they were still thinking about how to say sorry)

*15 minutes later*

We had come back into the classroom to work on journals and get ready for lunch. The child then went to go play with friends on the carpet area and read books. I could see that they were sitting with a group of friends when they took it upon themselves to apologize to them and tell them all that they were sorry they had not been a nice friend today. They read books and laughed together. They had turned their wrongs into rights and are beginning to understand what a true apology looks like.

The following is an excerpt from Zero to Three

 What is a True Apology?

I think apologies are important. But not the kind of apologies that we, as parents, are often tempted to use. The “I’m sorry…but” apologies: “I’m sorry, but it’s time for nap” or “I’m sorry that you threw the train at Thomas, now you have to take a break.” These apologies are not real. They are limit softeners–our parental code for, “Something really crappy is coming up now…I hope you don’t freak out.”

True apologies are important, even with babies and toddlers. Think of all the times that toddlers hear adults tell them, “You hit your brother/took your friend’s stuffed animal/dropped Mommy’s wedding ring down the drain (yes, this happened). NOW SAY YOU’RE SORRY.” How do we know how to say we’re sorry? How do we know how to forgive? We learn by experiencing it.

A true apology is one that clearly states what the adult did wrong in simple terms that a child can understand, like “I yelled at you and I shouldn’t; I’m sorry for that.” (And no excuses—for example, this is not a true apology: “I’m sorry for yelling, but your tantrum got me really upset.”)

What Do True Apologies Teach Young Children

True apologies between adults and children do three important things: First, they show children how to recognize the difference between right and wrong (this is called a conscience, and comes in handy.)

Second, true apologies help adults build an authentic relationship with their children—one in which both people will sometimes make mistakes. Repairing mistakes (apologizing) can and often does take a relationship to a new level.

Finally, offering a true apology teaches children—even toddlers—how to take responsibility for their actions and how to forgive. There is power, love, and generosity in forgiveness. It is a big deal.

By Rebecca Parlakian