Saying “I’m sorry”

Saying “I am sorry”

For so many of us, saying “I am sorry” is our first response when we do something to another person. It’s no wonder that we have passed this first response on to our children.

However, having a young child say “I am sorry” carries little or no meaning. It’s an empty apology if you will. In order to truly be sorry you must have the ability to empathize. In order to empathize with someone you must understand what they are feeling or better yet, understand with emotion what they are feeling.

Young children do not have the developmental ability to understand what another person is feeling. They are not capable of putting themselves in that person’s place emotionally. Therefore the phrase “I am sorry” carries no meaning. Typically children are not sorry for an action that caused another person to be sad, angry or frustrated. The phrase “I am sorry” then becomes an empty apology, a get out of jail free card.

Now, I am not saying that we let children off the hook entirely! In order to learn empathy we must teach empathy and model empathy. Like any other developmental stage, it must be facilitated and nurtured. We must be good role models for young children, allowing them to watch us be kind to others, to treat people with respect. That includes respecting young children.

When a child is disrespectful to another child at Knight Hall we do not ask for an “I am sorry” we ask them to see if the other child is okay. We point out that the other child is crying due to something that child did to the other child. We facilitate an encounter between the children that allows them all to see that they have an impact on each other. That they themselves can actually cause someone else to feel sad, angry, frustrated and happy! This is a process, just as learning to use the toilet is a process. All developmental understandings take time, patience and most importantly facilitation.

It is so important to help children learn to be empathetic, but don’t expect your child to have a good sense of empathy until they are about 7-8 years old. Help them learn that skill not by having them say “I am sorry”, but by helping them to see that their actions have an effect on others.

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