I'm pretty much always in the market for good ideas about how to make things go better. Not too long ago, I found one. Cuppacocoa has a fabulous post about how to apologize. It's well worth the time to read the whole thing, but here's the heart of her method:
I read it, lost it, and found it again, and in between times tried what I could remember, which was only the first two steps, and it is already making a difference in our home. Owning your mistakes is such a huge part of fixing them, and already, just that much is making a noticeable difference in the quality of apologies. But, as much as I like her formula for a good apology, I think that some of her insights into why apologizing is important and the benefits it brings to the offender are quite possibly even better. She plays out a common insincere apology scenario, and then she steps back and looks at it a bit:
I’m sorry for…
This is wrong because…
In the future, I will…
Will you forgive me?
That's an unfortunate circumstance for the offended, but it's a serious problem for the one apologizing! So much of parenting hinges on finding ways to reach the hearts of our children, and fakey-fake apologies are a complete failure. Empty form, with no truth behind it -- just exactly what we need to avoid in all areas if we are to be successful in leading our children to Christ!
You know inside, however, that the offended still feels bitter, because the apology was not sincere. And while it may seem like the offender got off easy– not even having to show proper remorse or use a sincere tone–he is actually the one who loses out the most. He not only learns a poor lesson that he can get away with lies and empty words, but does not have the opportunity to experience true reconciliation and restoration of relationships. He will probably continue inflicting similar offenses, feel less remorse than he should, and undergo less positive character change than he could have.
It's not the saying sorry that makes the difference - that's just the outward sign of an inward change (or mumbled compliance to get Mom off your back). It's this idea of Godly Sorrow that really makes the difference. For change to happen, you need more than just feeling sorry for yourself because you got caught and now you're in trouble. Real change, the stuff that builds character traits like courage and virtue, the real stuff grows out of sorrow for actually having done the deed. This kind of feeling can't be imposed from the outside - "Say sorry, and mean it!!" It's just not going to get the job done. It comes from understanding what the wrong did to the other person, and wishing you could undo it. And that wish leads to the determination to avoid doing the same thing in the future. And THAT is what we're aiming for when we teach our children. The process of saying, "This is wrong because _____," helps this process along more than a little!
I was pretty sure that I was forgetting something important, and I was. That third step. Planning for success next time. That's so important, to help kids know what they should do, the next time a similar situation comes up. We'll be adding that to our practice here in the next little while. And I really like the way that the blog post focuses on stating things positively:
I love when I can help my kids plan and practice for success. I love the message that it sends to them that they are good kids. This was just a little hiccup, and next time it'll go better. That's an important message. YOU ARE A GOOD KID. So much tells kids just the opposite. We watch heroes on TV, and read books about Superman, Batman, and the rest, and we spend a good bit of time talking about the differences between Heroes and Bad Guys. One of those differences is that Heroes make mistakes, but they fix them. Fixing things is hard, and this sort of apology seems to offer a chance for the kids to practice and plan for being one of the Good Guys by fixing things this time, and planning how to do better next time.
Wrong: In the future, I won’t push.
(Right: In the future, I will keep my hands to myself.)
Wrong: In the future, I won’t take your eraser.
(Right: In the future, I will ask you if I can borrow your eraser.)
I like that.