My friend and fellow Dad blogger Jim Turner (aka Genuine) and I had an interesting discussion this evening over a rather extraordinarily long and delicious dinner away from the wee ones where we talked about whether children should be required to apologize if they break the rules or hurt someone. It sprang out of a relatively minor incident at Jim’s house, but we see something transpire every day with our three that might warrant an apology or two.
This isn’t as obvious as it may appear on first glance, and Linda and I have discussed this very matter more than once in the recent past too.
Obviously, you want to teach your children to be kind, polite and mind their manners, if nothing else than just to be able to survive having them in your house for so many, many years, so from that angle, yes, they need to be taught pleasant behavior like “don’t throw the broccoli at the dog during dinner!” (no further explanation needed, I bet)
But other than training them in some sort of Pavlovian way to monotonically say “yeah, whatever, I’m sorry” or similar, does it really matter if they say “sorry” or not?
Clearly insisting they “say it like you mean it!” is more of the same knee-jerk response to the situation and again, do you really care if someone’s hurt you and they say, but cleary don’t mean, an apology? Does it make your broken lamp get fixed? Your skinned elbow heal?
Having said that, it may surprise you that I believe children should apologize and Jim captured my reasoning well when he observed that it’s just politeness training. Linda, however, believes that it’s quite possible that some children are just too young and since you won’t get a genuine apology, you should just let it go if they don’t automatically say “woah, sorry!”
I’m kind of on a fence about this (but don’t tell my wife) because I have seem my children do something bad and immediately apologize with a heartfelt upset about the situation. Not always, but let’s be frank: do you always mean it when you apologize for things like accidentally bumping someone getting onto the subway?
So what do you do? Do you require 100% compliance with the “say you’re sorry” rule, do you let it go completely, or do you rather sporadically request an apology from the offending party with the perhaps naive belief that somehow they’ll learn to be nicer and more polite and pleasant in the future?