Monday, March 12, 2007

The Hardest Word Isn't The Last Word

“Making excuses to justify your behavior is not an apology,” says the Tribune KIDNEWS headline. I want to add an exclamation point. Not an Apology!

In a nutshell, here’s what the article says, taking ideas from somebody named Bill Bernard and his book Life’s Not Fair: To correct your mistake, you must accept blame. “I didn’t mean it,” is only a way of deflecting blame away from yourself. The words “I’m sorry,” aren’t a magic spell that automatically takes all the hurt away. The apology is just the beginning. You need to fix the problem. Take responsibility for what you did.

In our house, with two little ones still learning about feelings other than their own, “sorry” can turn into a battle cry, “SORRY SORRY SORRY!” chanted furiously at the hurt party until she gets so mad she hits you in the head with a Polly Pocket.

The rational tone of my own excuses gives me the creeps. “Mia, I’m so sorry I lost my temper. Mommy’s in a really bad mood today because (Daddy’s golfing) I don’t feel good and there’s spaghetti everywhere on the floor and I’m having a hard time cleaning it up (while you girls run through it and smush the cold sticky white worms into the rug), okay?” She listens and nods and I feel worse because explanations tell the child that there is a formula whose correct result is anger, as if her suffering the blows of my voice was mandated by logic.

Take responsibility for what you did.

My infinitely gentle and wise Aunt Susan teaches preschool in rural Colorado. She told me about a boy in her class who called a little girl classmate “ugly.”

“Jason, you are in very big trouble,” said Aunt Susan. “You have got a lot of work to do.”
“That is so not going to cut it.”
“I’m sorry for calling you ugly, Lena.”
“You haven’t even started, Jason.”
“Lena, I’m really sorry I called you ugly. You aren’t ugly. You are really pretty.”
“You’re just getting started.”

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