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When We Force Apologies, We Remove Sincerity

Posted by Scott Heydt on Friday, May 2, 2014 Under: Classroom Strategies

RefinED Friends,

This scenario is likely all too familiar.

Child 1 says or acts in an inappropriate way toward Child 2.

Child 2 reacts with tears, anger, or retaliation.

Adult observes scene and approaches Child 1 and Child 2.

Adult discusses disagreement with children then says to Child 1, "Now tell Child 2 you're sorry." 

OK, so the adult wouldn't actually call the child "Child 2", but you see my point.

It is a natural and well-intentioned instinct to ask children to apologize. We want to teach respect, humility, and the value of making things right. But forced apologies undermine these intentions.

When we force children to apologize, the child often does so while both children are still in the heat of the moment. Child 1 is likely not ready to admit fault. Child 2 is likely not in a mental state to accept an apology. Also, children are perceptive enough to understand when apologies are not genuine. If Child 1 knows the apology is simply a way out of an uncomfortable conversation, he/she will do so without much thought.

In my conversations with students, I approach the situation this way. For the purposes of the dialogue, let's say Child 1 is Sam and Child 2 is Casey. First, I would pull Sam aside.

Me: "Casey, could please give Sam and I a moment alone? Sam, I noticed that your actions seem to have hurt Casey's feelings. Can you tell me what happened?

Then, I listen.

Next, I pull Casey aside.

Me: "Casey, I noticed your feelings were hurt just now with Sam. Can you tell me what happened?"

Again, I listen, and see if stories align.

At the conclusion, I tell the following to each child:

Me: "Sam, I'm not forcing you to apologize, but if you feel bad about what you have done, and if you'd like to express that to Casey, I recommend you pull him aside, in private, and apologize sincerely. Can you show me what that would look like? Remember, it's worse if you apologize and don't mean it, so please only apologize if you are sincere." (Notice, I'm having Sam practice what it would look like, but I'm not saying he needs to do it.)

Me: "Casey, Sam might decide later today to apologize. Or, he might not. If he does, no one is forcing you to accept his apology. What I would ask, though, is that you thank him for the apology if it happens. Thanking him tells him you realize he made an effort. If you choose to forgive him then, or later, that's great, but you'll at least be able respect his apology."

I'm a former classroom teacher, and I know this can seem like a lengthy, back-and-forth process, but it's crucial and teaches both students the truth about relationships. We shouldn't apologize if we don't mean it. We don't have to forgive. But we always, whether apologizing or receiving an apology, have an obligation to do so with respect.


Image credit: GerryT/flickr

In : Classroom Strategies 

Tags: apologies "forced apologies" student teacher classroom respect sincerity