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Episode 29

The importance of teaching children how to apologize and forgive.

May 2, 2022

[Kyle]: In today's podcast we're going to talk about, should you make your kids apologize? I know this is a discussion that happens in a lot of families and I know it just annoys a lot of parents, when their kids don't apologize sincerely. So, we're going to talk about how to approach that differently with your kids, to really help them take responsibility for their actions and resolve conflict in the family. 

[Kyle]: Hello and welcome to episode 29 of The Art of Raising Humans. I'm Kyle.

[Sara]: And I’m Sara.

[Kyle]: And it has been a busy April, you know? Hasn't it?

[Sara]: Yes. It's been crazy.

[Kyle]: And I bet a lot of our listeners are going through what we've gone through this past April, a lot of school stuff wrapping up. Easter was part of it, we had a great easter, right? Our youngest turned six, so she had a birthday, which was fantastic.

[Sara]: Other birthdays too.

[Kyle]: Yeah, other family celebrations going on. So, I’m sure most of you can relate to April just being really busy, I mean, even though we homeschool our kids, so we don't typically follow the regular-- We're not confined by the regular school schedule, but April seems to do that to us, you know? Because there's still kind of a wrapping up of what you're doing, there's other kind of testing things going on and you're just, a lot of projects are done. So, well, we're stepping into May, I know summer's coming, a lot of families have a lot of vacation plans having. So, I hope every one of you are kind of excited about what's upcoming. Hope you've got some really fun ways of connecting with your kids coming up.

[Kyle]: And in this podcast in particular, we want to talk about an opportunity that's going to come up a lot over the summer when your kids are playing with each other. There's going to be conflict, right?

[Sara]: Right, yes.

[Kyle]: When kids have free time--

[Sara]: Yeah, it’s natural, when people are together, there's conflict.

[Kyle]: There's conflict and so, people are going to hurt each other's feelings, they're going to say and do things that people get upset about and so, in this episode in particular, we wanted to tackle something that I see a lot and I know you do too, Sara, when it comes to family is, should we make our kids apologize? You know, a real common thing is lots of families have this value that it's important to apologize after you hurt somebody. Would you agree?

[Sara]: Yeah, right and that is a skill to learn. I fully agree. How do you apologize? How do you make things right when you've messed up? Because we're going to mess up and so, we want to teach our kids what to do next. You mess up, it's human, we all do it. Now what?

[Kyle]: If you break something, try to repair it. So, I felt, Sara, when I was thinking about the topics for these podcasts, since we just kind of tackled two-- The last two episodes, one was about consequences and I know a lot of parents who probably heard that were like “what!? What do I do then if--!?”. I hope-- We didn't go totally into depth, but I hope we explained well that there are consequences to giving consequences.

[Kyle]: So, when you give consequence there’s a consequence and we also talked in the last one just before this, about having structures and like, you know, rituals that you have in your family, okay? So, I thought this kind of piggy backed to that well, because I think what I see a lot with families is, one of the consequences of giving punishment and consequences, is kids necessarily don't want to take responsibility for the things that they've done, you know? Because to take responsibility typically means “I’m gonna get a consequence”, you know? And so, there's this hesitation to do that, which seems to undermine what we just said, lots of parents want and value kids taking responsibility for what they've done and one of those rituals that families want them to do, is to say you're sorry, right?

[Sara]: Yeah, yeah. You're kind of saying-- You have to create the environment; these things can help create an environment that invites kids to take responsibility. “I messed up, this is what happened” and then, knowing that you're going to come alongside them and figuring out what to do next, versus just “great, you told me. Now, here's the punishment”.

[Kyle]: Yeah, yeah. Well, I like what you just said, instead of “I messed up” with consequences, like “you messed up and here's what we're going to do to you about that”, yeah?

[Kyle]: Instead what we're wanting to do, why we think we agree, we think apologies are important, we think forgiveness is key in relationships to be healthy and strong and intimate, you know, close and vulnerable with each other. We think those are important, but if the kid is afraid of the punishment and the consequences that are going to come, when they mess up, which kids are going to do, then they're less likely to want to own that and say they're sorry.

[Sara]: As we are too, right?

[Kyle]: Yes. Good point.

[Sara]: If you're at work or in your relationship with your significant other and you mess up, you kind of think in your head how are they going to respond and if that boss or that, you know, your friend, whoever, you know that person is going to receive it, you're going to be able to talk about it, you're going to make it right. You're much more likely to own it and go fix that damage you've done, versus “my boss is going to yell at me, they're going to come down on me” or you know, your friend, whatever's going to happen. You know that as a grown-up and so, how much more for children that experience is gonna be like? This person who's so powerful in my life, who I want to be happy with me.

[Kyle]: I want them to like me, I want them to think I’m a good kid, I want them-- Yeah.

[Sara]: Children want that. Even if they don't seem like they do, they do.

[Sara]: You're so important to them and they want you to be happy with them and to see them well and so, we can help create that environment for them.

[Kyle]: Yeah. I was thinking too as you said that, as adults if we think we're going to get blamed or someone's going to point the finger or we're going to be unjustly accused of something, you know, we're less apt to own up to it. We're more likely to try to diminish it, justify it, make excuses for it. You know, I hear a lot of parents say that they don't want the kid to make excuses for what they've done and we agree, we want them-- I don't mind an explanation for what they've done, but inevitably, I want conflict to be an opportunity within the family, that leads to more intimacy, more closeness, more vulnerability. But when there's consequences and punishment used, every time there's a conflict or some kind of-- Somebody hurts somebody or gets upset, it typically leads to isolation.

[Kyle]: So, in this podcast we're talking about apologies, we're doing it as a way to create more intimacy among the siblings, among the-- Within the family, instead of the isolation, which in a lot of cases when kids are “made to say they're sorry”. I don't know if this happened to you, Sara, I know it happened to me several times or I saw friends who did it, it was that constant power struggle of like “say you're sorry!” and then the kid would say “I’m sorry”. “You didn't mean it!”, “No, I did mean it!”, “No! It didn't look like you meant it!” and there's this back and forth about, now how do I fake that I meant it even though I didn't? How do I say it--? Like you said, I want the parent to get off my back and be fine with me again. So, the kid almost learns to fake sincerity, which isn't going to be helpful, you know? That's not good, I don't want my kids faking sincerity, I want them to sincerely own the consequences of what happened, which is they hurt their brother or sister or you know, they did something that caused some damage in the relationship between their parents and them, you know? And I think faking the sincerity doesn't help them do that.

[Sara]: I think a lot of times too, we jump to the “I’m sorry” before we've kind of delved into it a little bit. So, if this child hits that child, for example, punches them in the stomach or something, there's probably a reason for that.

[Sara]: And so, we jump to “I’m sorry” as if that's gonna fix all of that background information and it doesn't. We know it doesn't, you know? But we think “oh, let's just--”

[Kyle]: It's like putting a band-aid on, yeah


[Sara]: Right. So, and if that person is still mad, they probably punched them because they were mad about something and so, they just jumped to “I’m sorry”. You know, they can say “I’m sorry” and they're not even in a space to be sorry.

[Sara]: They're still angry about whatever happened and they might even feel justified in what they do. So, if you don't dive into that stuff, then the sorry really isn't accomplishing your goal.

[Kyle]: So, what you're saying is they don't understand what initially caused the upset that then led to the behavior, right? And yeah, if you just say “I’m sorry”, it kind of skirts all that.

[Sara]: Right. So, we wanna do pull back and pause for a second and get into that. You kind of hit up on it when you said you want to hear an explanation.

[Sara]: Not excuses, that's different, but an explanation. “Yeah, I do, I want to hear what led to this, what led to you hitting your brother. You know, there was something there that happened, so tell me that story” and I need to get them to a calm place, right? We need to resolve that in them, we need them to regulate again, get into the right part of their brain, so that they can then move to the next step. So, I need to hear that and I need to help them regulate, unless they're able to do that on their own, but a lot of times kids, they're going to need us to come alongside, they need to borrow our calmness.

[Kyle]: Even up in the teenage years, yeah.

[Sara]: They need to borrow our regulation. Yeah, as well teenagers, for sure, because you almost have even more going on.

[Sara]: Sometimes when you're doing it, you’re eight or nine. So, they need us to come alongside, borrow that kind of calm from us so then get regulated and then, they can look at the problem differently than where they’re upset.


[Kyle]: So, what you're suggesting, a key component of an apology done well, is reflection, you'd like them to reflect upon what brought you there, you know? And to kind of understand that better, so then you actually know-- Well, you know yourself better, but to also know what you're apologizing for, right? Is that you felt this way and then you took that action to express that feeling and so, let's apologize for that action, but let's go back and figure out how to do that differently next time, right? So, that's really where the learning happens.

[Kyle]: And I think a key part of that is forgiveness, right? So, if you could add that and then I want to go through some of the specific steps that we take with our kids but, is forgiveness important? So, like is it okay just to say “I’m sorry” and then someone says “it's okay”, you know? And then they just “okay, they're done”. What would you add to that?

[Sara]: Okay. So, you're saying the apology can be half-hearted and really not meant, but so can be forgiveness, right?

[Sara]: Because the other kid could be “I know I’m supposed to say I forgive you, even though I don't really forgive you. Things between us are not okay and this is probably going to happen again”.

[Kyle]: Exactly, yeah.

[Sara]: Right?

[Kyle]: Yeah, “I don't want to be in trouble now for not forgiving you”. But many times, Sara, I’d say even adults do this. The kid apologies and they say “it's okay” and they'll say that, they don't even think to say forgiveness. So--

[Sara]: Yeah, “I forgive you” is different than “it's okay”.

[Kyle]: Yeah. I mean, when kids say that, when-- I would hear a kid say that, let's say I raised my voice at one of the kids and then I said, I apologize to him and they say “it's okay”, then what am I doing this for? If it was okay--

[Sara]: Yeah, it’s not actually okay.

[Kyle]: I actually will strongly say that. When I was a school counselor, I say the kids all the time “then why did you come to my office so upset? If this was all okay, then what are we here for? Okay?”. So, saying “it's okay” is also, you're missing the step I would like you to do, which is for you to forgive the person, you know? They've apologized, they said-- That's not the best way to do it, they wish they would have done it differently, can you accept that or are you going to hold that against them? You know?

[Sara]: Yeah. Because they have some work to do too, the other side of the apology is, again, helping them regulate, helping them look at what happened in this situation.

[Kyle]: Yeah, and not have resentments, yeah.

[Sara]: Yes, a true repair in the relationship is the forgiveness and it, you know, the forgiveness is part of it the apology and the forgiveness, that's what's going to bring a relationship back. Because if, you know, my best friend hurts my feelings and I say “oh, that's okay”, you know, there might “I’m still got something there, I haven't resolved that truly”.

[Sara]: “So, we might need to have a conversation and really resolve that”.

[Kyle]: Well, and as you're talking, you know what I’m thinking, Sara, this is one of those rituals that is old school, you know? Let's get the kids together, let's have them say “I’m sorry for doing X, Y and Z”. Let’s have them say “I forgive you”, that's kind of a thing, but-

[Sara]: Yeah. Now, give each other a hug.

[Sara]: And there's still seething inside.

[Kyle]: So, it's kind of old school ritual with a new school spin on it, yeah?

[Kyle]: I actually think all of those steps are important and vital, I just want each of the kids to be regulated and really understand what is the point of this ritual, you know? And I want the adults who are doing the ritual with the kid, to understand there might need to be some coaching here, but also that the key goal here is, the conflict brings about intimacy rather than isolation and that everybody understands that this is how we repair broken things, you know? That these are the consequences. The consequences of hurting somebody is coming back to them to repair the thing you broke and inevitably, the forgiveness is actually part of the ritual that sets us free, to then be able to move closer towards each other, rather than continually holding our mistakes against each other, you know?

[Sara]: Right, and just building that up and it builds and builds and builds and I think, honestly there's-- We've learned more about relationships and how to have successful ones in the workplace and with our friends in our lives, with intimate relationships and so, I think this is just bringing that up to “let's take this to the children too”. I think I’ve been through some work trainings, probably other people have, some team building, that addresses some of this stuff.

[Sara]: So, I think it's out there and we-- It's just “let's talk it, let's talk about it with children. What does this look like in a family between siblings?”

[Kyle]: So, what you're saying-- That's true, I didn't think that-- That just in the business world or in like work dynamics, these kinds of steps are similar and maybe not in the same wording, but very similar, the same idea.

[Sara]: Yeah, and I see it in there, it's getting out there and maybe not every business, but if you've been in part of a corporation or something.

[Kyle]: In healthy business, yeah, are trying to make healthy cultures, yeah.

[Sara]: They're bringing in people that teach this stuff in the workplace.

[Kyle]: And so, if you're wanting a healthy culture at work, you're going to have some similar steps of people needing to come back together, use that conflict to then bring about more intimate closer relationships within the workplace and it's going to make a healthier culture, if everybody can own what they've done and then ask for forgiveness for those things that have happened, right? And then for the other co-worker, you know, nobody in the situation is just going through the motions, we're all trying to actually own our part within the conflict.

[Sara]: Yeah, come to the table. True resolution.

[Kyle]: True resolution, yes. So, something that you pointed out before we began the podcast was, something that we kind of listen for, our ears are listening for is, even in our family with our kids, even though we emphasize this, at times there's a misunderstanding, you know? At times we will hear one of the kids get upset and demand an apology from the other kid, right?

[Kyle]: Or at times we'll hear a half-hearted apology, you know? Just “I’m sorry” and then like “let's get this done with”, you know? And then, that is a like little bip, bip to us. My beeping sounded weird, but that's a little like blinking lights “there's a misunderstanding of why we're doing this”, right? Is that kind of what you listen to?

[Sara]: Yeah, kids will definitely like “oh, I know where this is going. Sorry”, you know? Just so they can bypass the uncomfortable comments--

[Kyle]: Especially if they see us coming. “Okay, mom and dad are going to come coach us through this”.

[Sara]: So, we feel that way too, right? We're like “oh no…”

[Kyle]: “Oh god”. “Sorry”. “Done”. “Mom, dad, we got this”.

[Sara]: “We don’t want to get into this”, right?

[Kyle]: That's right, and so, if we hear that, we're like “oh, we need to come back at some point, to get better connection maybe” and this is after we follow up. If we can do it in the moment, great, but maybe we need to follow up and clarify with that kid the misunderstanding that's happening, that we're not trying to make them do anything. This goes back to the wording podcast. “I’m not trying to make you apologize, I’m not trying to get you to apologize, I’m inviting you into something that is healthier and is actually going to resolve the conflict that just happened and you're actually going to like the outcome, if you're able to participate in that invitation”.

[Sara]: Yeah. So, along that we actually would not make a child apologize. If the child doesn't get to that place, I’m not gonna keep dragging them along, I’m not gonna force it, but I do think if I look at that and that kid's just like “no, I’m not gonna say sorry for that”, then I think “okay, you're not there yet, you're not regulated enough or this isn't the moment. We need to keep repairing you, helping you regulate”.

[Sara]: And trust the process. Sometimes you think “oh my goodness! My child is not going to apologize!”, it's going to be okay. Because my goal is to get my child to that space, but I’ve got a journey with them longer, we're not there yet and trying to skip that, in the end I really-- They haven't learned anything.

[Kyle]: No, I agree. Yeah, it's just going to start a power struggle or--

[Sara]: I might feel-- Pat myself in the back my kids said “sorry”, but if they don't mean it and they're not in that space, then what have I really accomplished?

[Kyle]: Or just teaches them unhealthy habits like, “let's just get this done”, yeah and so, I think it's really important to point that out that, it is something we always follow up with, right? So, it isn't if the kid continued to refuse-- Which our kids have done that, right? They've not been in that space; it tells me they're not in the prefrontal cortex. If they are in the prefrontal cortex, I don't think they have resistance to taking responsibility for what they've done and trying to improve that thing they did and do it differently, but if they are resisting it, it's typically going to be a misunderstanding of what we're asking them to do or two, there's not a good space. So, remember connection leads to cooperation, so I’m gonna later on follow up, you and I would talk and intentionally follow up with that kid, to ask-- Invite them into it.

[Kyle]: Now, another thing we've done especially with littler kids who are resistant and they seem like they're in a good place, but I still want to show them what I mean by, just to clarify what it looks like. Because they think, lots of kids I see at the private practice, lots of kids are afraid to because they think the other kid's gonna, you know, get really upset at them or they definitely think saying “I’m sorry” is gonna turn into this long lecture or this like, it's not gonna be a positive experience, you know? So, what I will do if I’m trying to change those dynamics within the home is, I want a model for the kids. So, I say “listen, in the past maybe you've done that and you said you're sorry and you didn't mean it or we got upset at you and it didn't turn out well. Let me show you what I mean by this, you know? Come over here, I want to model it for you real quick” and I might even coach the kid who we're doing it with before, I do this, but I’ll just come up and I’ll say “here, I’ll apologize for you, okay?” Now, I’m not going to do that forever, but I’m just doing it almost like loaning him my prefrontal cortex. I’m going to let the kid borrow my ability to take responsibility for the actions and reach across the table and say “will you forgive me for what I did?”, you know? And so, I’ll even phrase in that sense, I won't say for what he did, I might say “for what I did” or the part we played in that and then, the kid can look at me or the other kid and say they forgive him and the kid can see how that feels.

[Sara]: Yeah, yeah, and again, I think it is important to reiterate this would be after everyone's calm back down.

[Sara]: After everyone's in a good space. So, I’m gonna go to the child that was hurt and I’m going to first regulate them, you know, but not a sort of like “oh, I hate you child who messed up”, you know? That kind of thing, I’m not giving them a dirty look. I’m saying “I’m going to go take care of so and so and--"

[Kyle]: The one who's hurt, yeah.

[Sara]: Right, I’m going to make sure they're okay, I’m going to be with them, but I’m going to also with that same gentleness go to the person who's upset and I’m going to help them regulate and I want to hear their story and how they got there, because my goal is to help them get back to that prefrontal cortex and then, if they're still not ready, if like you said the younger ones, then I would apologize for them.

[Sara]: I would say “you knocked over my blocks and ruined my building I’d worked really hard on”.

[Kyle]: Yeah. “You messed up my Minecraft game and erased all that stuff I worked on”, right?

[Kyle]: And as, you're saying it the first thought I was thinking, listeners are probably going “that's going to take a lot of time”. Yeah, it's going to take a lot of time to do this and I don't have all that time and I guess my challenge to that would be, not doing it takes a lot more time. So, everybody kind of faking that they're sorry, everybody just giving lip service, being insincere throughout this, I think that takes more time because it creates more conflict. What we're trying to teach the kids through this ritual of apologizing and forgiving, we're teaching them how to resolve conflict in healthier ways, thereby making it less likely I need to coach them in the future, you know? They will learn--

[Sara]: They will learn the skill and be able to do the skill on their own.

[Sara]: Not always, right? There's going to be lots of times they still need your support because that's what we're there for, but you'll see-- You'll start to see these little times where “oh, they took care of that on their own”.

[Kyle]: Yeah, it’s awesome.

[Kyle]: Yeah, and you'll go “wow, all that leg work up at the front has been worth it”. But then I’m thinking about, Sara, how many marriages can't seem to do this, right? Who couples don't know how to look each other in the eye and sincerely say “I’m sorry for how I spoke to you the other day”. I’m saying that because I’ve probably said that a lot of times to you and even in that, I think you said-- But to the marriage point is, how many couples can't seem to be like, use conflict in a way where they apologize, where they forgive one another and to where that conflict's really resolved and they move towards each other? I think that's important to note, that's what we're trying to raise our kids to have those, but also in that, I think you said something too that Abby said to me early on, is I was pretty good about doing this with Abby, apologizing and asking forgiveness and you mentioned to me a big part of apologizing too, is also this idea of repenting, like I’m kind of repenting for what I’ve done and part of the word repentance is turning away from like, you know, doing something different next time.

[Kyle]: So, a big thing we're wanting our kids to eventually get to and even as adults, I want to get to as a dad, is I know I kept saying to Abby “I’m sorry I yelled to you the other day. I’m sorry” and Abby would say “dad, I’m glad you come to me and you own it, I just wish you would change it” and so, we also want to put that out there, that that's the goal in all this too. The ritual is, you know, the kid is coming and saying “I’m sorry” for whatever they did, right? This is kind of how we do it, you know, people can be creative however they do it, but this is just the format we like to do it to get to the goal that we're trying to get to. “I’m sorry for what I did, will you forgive me?” and I like that wording step by step and then, the kid who's been hurt to say “yes, I will forgive you” and then, we don't tell them to hug, but that would be great if they want to. I’d say if you want a hug, you want a high five, some kind of connection after that and you really want to see them willing to do that, because that's part of the intimacy that they're moving towards.

[Sara]: Right, and if they're in a good space, then they'll be okay with that.

[Sara]: You know, if they're not, if they don't want to high five, they're still kind of turning the cold shoulder, then we're not really there yet and they are still faking it and I think it's important to mention that the words, you know, “I’m sorry” and all that is great, but we are actually open to other forms of repair and I think that's important to mention. So, for example, a child might like to draw a picture as an apology or if they've messed up something, they might say “oh, I broke your building, can I help you rebuild it?”

[Sara]: That might be repair. Repair could be, go and get an ice pack for your knee because I shoved you down, you scraped your knee. So, repair can look different ways and I actually, I love that, because a quick sorry it's kind of easy to get.

[Kyle]: Exactly, yeah, yeah.

[Sara]: But true repair would be, like you said, you know, you're turning away, I’m going to do something, I’m going to help build this relationship back up.

[Sara]: And getting you a cold pack or helping you build your building or you know, I messed up your room, I’m going to help you clean up your room. Those kinds of things are the repair that I think is really valuable.

[Kyle]: It's great, yeah.

[Sara]: Versus just an “I’m sorry”.

[Kyle]: So good, so good. So, I hope this helps clarify that. So, many parents I think are trying to figure this out, because I think it is such an important piece of helping your kids learn the skill of conflict resolution with “oh my goodness, we need that in the world”. We need some kids to grow up as adults, who know-- Who aren't scared of conflict, who don't run from it, but know how to resolve it. How to use conflict as a tool to really understand themselves better and others better and I think the ritual of apologizing and forgiving one another, is a key component that we use in our family to do that.

[Kyle]: So, we'd love for your feedback, love to hear maybe some ways you do it a little differently. With any kind of comments you want to give us, on any kind of place you're listening to, on the different platforms you're listening to this podcast. We'd love for you to share this, because families I think, really would need help in this area. So, we'd love you to share it. Definitely visit us at, you can see more of our content there and we've got some exciting things planned for May. So, I think in the near future, we're looking at much more content like this, but also may start including some interviews with parents and changes how they moved from like, fear-based punishment consequences type stuff, onto a different type of approach of parenting that was much more discipleship oriented and kind of inviting the kids into learning and growing, instead of just demanding behavior and stuff like that.

[Kyle]: So, it was really lovely doing this podcast today. I hope it really helps you.

[Sara]: Thanks for listening.

[Kyle]: Have a great day.

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