Apologizing for the Non Apologetic Child: Part 2 of a 3 part series on parenting
Some children find apologizing to be an especially difficult, no I amend that, even an impossible task. One mother told her argumentative 8 year old daughter, “do not speak to me until you apologize to me”. Three silent days later the mother walked past her daughter’s room and heard her whisper, once “I am sorry”. She did not say it had to be loud, or that it had to be to her face to face, she just said she had to apologize to her. The child did, it was done.
If your child misbehaves or offends someone else it is tempting to be governed by the opinions you think others have of your child, and by proxy your parenting. Sometimes it has nothing to do with your imagination, the ‘someone’ else will actually verbalize it. The old "my children never even thought of doing that", will do it. Knife plunged in your parenting heart. Peeling the opinions of others and their children's alleged perfections away from your subsequent parenting task is not easy.
To be effective you need to examine your own priorities and control your own responses. Depending on the offense you may want to apologize for your child, repair any damage and deal with the child away from the critical crowd. You could do more harm than good by insulting or embarrassing your child in public than if she does not apologize at that very moment. None of this is set in stone. There is no “right way manual” that fits every child. There are basic concepts and one of those involves protecting the dignity of your child, even your stubborn, non apologizing little miss of a child.
To analyze what is really going on review the feeling that the incident raised in you. This takes brutal honesty. You may have to keep pushing against your self defense mechanisms to get to the core. You may discover your feelings may have more to do with your reputation as a perfect parent than they do with any real desire to save your child from reaping the weeds that grow in an apology free life.
The challenge is to tease your own feelings, perhaps your hidden doubts about your parenting out of this sutation. Once that is accomplished, and it may take some inner dialogue and brutal honesty, your focus should be on the problem behavior and the non apology. If there is an issue with your parenting style that will need to be addressed too but as a behavior, not as an indictment against you as a person or a parent. This is the only way to have a clear view of how to help your child.
Review what led up to it? Was it an absence of parental supervison? If so, that is easily amended. Was it that the child was over tired, hungry, unwell? Again, easily fixed. Was it that she did not want to be there, if so, shorten your time at such places when you can.
In a busy, noisy mall one pre Christmas shopping rush I saw a child "act up". The mother did not scream at her, did not tell her how selfish she was, did not ignore it and push on, she stopped. She assessed the child. The little girl was overwhelmed, over stimulated, over tired, her cheeks were over flushed. The mother talked to the store assistant. Without embarrassment she apologized for leaving a cart half filled with carefully selected items. The mother spoke only soothing not unkind words. She took the child home, presumably to a warm bath and bed. She analyzed the situation. The little shopper was not being "bad" she had simply come to the limit of her ability to cope with the shopping trip. The child did not need to apologize.
At times when the child is being stubborn or displaying problem behavior that does need to be addressed ask yourself "What is my goal with her?" Further review, is the problem behavior habituated? Does it need to be dealt with or is it a 'one of'? Once you have determined that, do and say only those things that meet your goal and the issue will resolve.
In all likelihood it is a phase. She will grow out of it with your guidance. Making a bigger deal out of it than it is could cement it in place. Dealing with it lightly can cause it to fade into the blizzard of issues resolved before you realize it’s gone.
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