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The Art of Apologizing to a Child

I've met a lot of parents and worked with a lot of teachers over the years, but I've only met a handful who think it's important to apologize to their children or students. And I think that's too bad.

If adults are somehow "wronged" by another, we always appreciate a heartfelt apology. In fact, an apology tends to make us think more highly of the one doing the apologizing. So why is it so unusual to find adults who feel comfortable apologizing to children?

I think that because kids are small - they're kids after all - adults don't think it's important to apologize when they've been wrong. And that's too bad, for several reasons.

First, apologizing when necessary - to ANYONE - is simply the morally right thing to do, no matter the age of the person you've offended. Think back to a time when someone apologized to you. What do you think of the person who did the apologizing? I would imagine you thought much better of him or her after the apology. Apologies don't make the one doing the apologizing seem weak - quite the opposite! It takes a strong person to recognize when he or she has been in error, and a stronger one to apologize for it. And, if you're anything like me, you think even better of an adult who feels comfortable apologizing to kids. That's following the Golden Rule - treat others (even small others) as you wish to be treated. Try it - it feels good!

Second, apologizing sets a good example for the young person. How are we to expect children and adolescents to apologize when they see it so infrequently from adults? Seeing an adult apologize to another person lets the children who witness it know that this is something responsible adults do, that it's part of growing up. A good role model makes a good apology.

Third, apologizing lets kids know that everyone makes mistakes, but mistakes can be surmountable. I've seen many students in my classes who are afraid to try something new because they are afraid of failing, of making a mistake. So what if you make a mistake? My students have watched me make plenty of mistakes over the years. I usually laugh it off - "Oh, that's my first mistake this year!" Other times I'll thank my students for catching my mistake - "That's why I have 12 of you - to help keep me on track!" My demeanor lets my students know that mistakes are simply part of life and this frees them from being afraid to fail. It's okay to take a risk! If they fail, we'll be here to catch them!

And since I'm on this topic, I'd like to address "fair confrontations". No one likes being blamed for something they didn't do. No one likes being backed into a corner by an accuser. No one enjoys being on the losing end of a confrontation - not adults, not kids. I've seen way too many adults feel that they MUST win in any and all confrontations with others - big and small others. Why? Can't we arrive at a happy compromise, a "win-win" solution? If adults feel they are always right, that attitude can create bullies - and I'm not talking about small, student bullies. No, I'm talking about big parent, teacher, and principal bullies. Yes, I've seen my share of bullies in the big desks! And it's not a pretty sight. I've witnessed teachers bully other teachers, students, and parents. I've seen principals bully teachers. I won't work in situations like that.

On the other hand, when someone has honestly and fairly pointed out a failure or fault of mine, I've had no problem owning up to it. Sure, it's embarrassing and yes, it's a bit hard to swallow my pride and tell them they're absolutely right. But doing so has allowed me to improve myself. I've valued those critiques and admired the people who have cared enough about me to point out where I can better myself.

Sharing critiques with others (small and big others) can be a difficult task, so it's worth the time to learn how to do it well. Not only will you end up with a better team, be it a team of teachers or a classroom full of students, but you'll find you have people who will listen to you and work to do as you've asked. Loyalty, respect, and kindness are nurtured when we treat others the way we want to be treated. The Golden Rule is as important in the classroom as it is in our homes.