If we should ever have a play date, there's something you might want to know. My toddler will most likely do something unkind to your child. He might hit or push or take a toy.. And if he does, you can expect that I will swoop in with a quickness. I will pull him aside. I will most definitely reprimand him but I will not make my toddler apologize.
I know it's not the social norm and I may end up making some moms pretty angry along the way but it's a decision I have thought long and hard about, well before I even had a kid.
I worked with children for many years prior to having a child of my own. In this time, I witnessed many parents and my colleagues practically force children to apologize to each other. I even did it myself because that's just what you do, right? You offend someone, you apologize. It's common courtesy.
Except, it's really not.
Saying "I'm sorry" is not courteous.
Until now, I have told very few people that I don't make my child apologize, less than a handful. But something I have consistently heard in response is that there is no difference between teaching your child to apologize and teaching him to say "please" and "thank you".
I beg to differ.
Saying "please" and "thank you" is polite and being polite displays good manners. Apologizing requires empathy and remorse, which displays good character.
As a mom, I have to keep the big picture in mind at all times. Sure, in the moment I would love it if my two year old (who is just beginning to develop some empathy) would march up to a child he has hurt, whether physically or emotionally, and say "I'm sorry". Come to think of it, if we're making wishes... I'd like him not to hurt anyone at all. But that's not real life.
Kids (adults, too) will hurt others. And, like it or not, they may or may not be sorry. My job isn't to get my child to say something because it's the "right" or "polite" thing to do, my job is to instill in him good character. My goal is to raise him to be a man that recognizes when he is wrong, feels empathy and goes back to make it right.
That's the big picture.
So, what do I do when my child has done something to hurt someone else?
I remove him from the situation.
Like I said earlier, I will swoop in so fast and pull my son aside. I think this is best for everyone involved.
I reprimand him.
I think this is a word that some parents don't like to hear anymore because it sounds harsh or too authoritarian but to "reprimand" simply means to correct. And you can bet, I will correct him.
I try to get him to understand that he hurt someone.
Yes, I said "try". Why? Because he's two! He doesn't always understand how his actions may have affected someone else. He is, however, starting to become more and more aware of what is going on. For example, he will frequently point out when another child is crying. So, if he is the one that made the child cry, I will point this out to him. He might say, "Oh, crying". To which I would say, "Yes, she is crying. Because you hit her and it hurt. " Then, I will proceed to talk it out with him.
I remind him of what is appropriate behavior.
I generally tell my son that what he did was not loving. Then, I remind him of what loving behavior is - high five's, hugs, hand shakes, etc. I don't just tell him, I show him and I ask him to show me what is loving.
I help him make it right.
Once I have talked with my son, I ask him if he can go back and be loving to the other child. Then, I walk back over with him and walk him through being "loving". I generally choose the form of a high five as it's non-invasive. With my niece and nephew (who are much older) it's always hugs!
I lead by example.
Like I mentioned earlier, my son is becoming more and more aware of his surroundings and others' feelings. He almost always picks up on it when I'm upset. So, when he has done something unkind to another child and he asks "Mommy, mad?" I tell him, "Yes" and I use it as an opportunity to display my own empathy by showing him that I'm not just mad, I'm sad that the other child got hurt. I take it a step further and when we go back to make it right, I apologize to the parent and/or child.