When will I learn?
My first experience teaching my oldest daughter how to say “I’m sorry” was one of those times. For some crazy reason I thought that owning up to her crime and apologizing to me would be a no-brainer, but what I’ve found is that saying, “I’m sorry” has been one of the hardest skills for my kiddos to master.
This is how my maiden voyage into the world of apology began:
Mom: “Sweety, what would you like to say to me for telling a lie?”
Child: “I forgive you!”
She had screwed up.
I had been wronged.
And… she forgave me?
How does a person even work with upside down thinking like that? I realized then and there that I was going to have to drop all assumptions that my children innately understood how to apologize and start from the beginning. The first thing they needed to be made aware of was their guilt, because clearly one of my kids had missed that crucial piece of information.
So the first step in teaching children “How to Say I’m Sorry” is admission:
“I was wrong.”
An admission of guilt is the first part of any apology.
King David’s words in 2 Samuel 24:17 demonstrate this well: “Here, I have sinned, I have done wrong.”
With both courage and humility David owns his sin and admits his wrong. He doesn’t try to blame the Israelites, he claims his sin and states it out loud.
The phrase I was wrong will require courage from our children as they state out loud in front of God and everyone that they have sinned because their admission will open them up to the possibility of rejection and judgment. That is why confession is so scary
Show your children that when they don’t blame someone else or make excuses, when they admit that they are wrong, they are still loved and accepted.
Humility will be also be required to admit I was wrong. To be humble is to lower yourself in the presence of another or to obtain a clearer perspective of your true nature. Admitting wrong reminds us of who we are, sinful humans created by God, but not God ourselves. The beginning of wisdom is the knowledge that we are not God.
The second piece of a good apology is found in the phrase:
“I am sorry for ______________.”
Filling in this blank has been the hardest part of all. Believe me, I have heard it all…
I am sorry that you were being a jerk.
I am sorry that you were so irritating that I had to hit you.
Or the ever popular, Sorry.
Sorry by itself is not an apology; its more of a statement. Sorry means I got caught and this is what I have to say to appease the one who caught me. It’s usually a statement of regret (for getting caught) and no where near repentance as evidenced by the tone in which it is uttered.
When children can fill it the blank, “I am sorry for ___________”, it tells you if they really know what they did or agree with you about the nature of their crime, so require them to be specific. “I am sorry for being mean” is not enough. How were they mean? What words did they say? What actions did they take? If they don’t know what exactly they did wrong, have them ask the one who was wronged. This is another great opportunity for them to experience humility. The good news for our little criminals is that there is a reward for humility and that is grace.
The final step in any good apology is not a statement as in the first two parts, but a question that can lead to that grace:
“Will you please forgive me?”
When we have sinned against someone we have taken control away from them, but this question, “Will you please forgive me?” restores the balance and puts the control back into the hands of the one who was wronged. This question also requires courage because you don’t know how the one on the receiving end will respond. They could actually say NO.
As a three-year-old, one of my daughters was really into the word NO. So when a family member came to stay with us and asked her pick up her toys, she used her favorite word, NO. The family member was shocked by such blatant disobedience. I was used to it, so she started in on the Apology Mantra: I was wrong, I am sorry for disobeying you and not picking up my toys. Will you please forgive me? And to both of our surprise, the family member said NO. I looked at the adult and he looked at me with a hint of righteous indignation and said, “No. She might do it again,” to which I was thinking, “I’m pretty sure that she will.” My daughter looked at me in complete confusion so I took her hand and led her into another room so that we could talk. I told her she had done the right thing, she had owned her sin, she had had the courage and humility to admit her wrong and ask for forgiveness. She did what she could, but she couldn’t control what another person would do with her apology. We bowed our heads in prayer and thanked God for the gift of apology, that she could be released and forgiven for her sin. And then we asked for His help with the restoration of that relationship; we put it in His hands.
This apology process needs to be used again and again so that our children will not carry the weight of their sins on their hearts. Jesus designed this burden to be carried by Him alone. It is too much for them to bear. As they confess, apologize and ask to be forgiven they transfer that weight to Jesus. They do their part in restoring relationship and then they put the outcome for reconciliation in His hands.
Therefore, confess your sins to one another,
and pray for one another so that you may be healed.
What have you found successful in dealing with the giving and receiving of forgiveness factor?
By Dale Skram
Mom of four
1 Corinthians 13 Parenting Team Member
real.life.speaker, real.faith.writer, and real.life.coach