From the earliest age, we teach our kids to say ‘Please’ and ‘Thank-you.’ Besides ‘Momma” and “Dada’ those are the first words our little ones are able say. My husband and I taught both of our kids a limited amount of baby sign language. Some of the first words they learned centered on explaining a need – please, food, water, milk. Please and thank-you are easy. These are the magic words we say to get what we want!
But there is something different about saying “I’m sorry.” This is a more difficult phrase to teach our kids – definitely not one of the words we taught through sign language! It is more difficult to explain the importance of an apology. I’ve noticed a difference in the way my kids say I’m sorry. I’m not sure if this difference is a sign of their age or their unique personalities.
My 6-year-old will apologize for anything and everything. Perhaps he lives with a guilty conscience from everything he’s done wrong, and he needs to apologize to reconcile the relationship? I asked my son if it is easy to say “I’m sorry.” He said sometimes – that it was easy to say I’m sorry when he had really done something wrong, and he truly needed to apologize. But when it was a wrong he didn’t understand, or when he was saying I’m sorry just to appease mom or dad that was harder.
This was not the answer I expected, but I liked it. He genuinely wants to get to a right relationship. Which makes sense. He is compassionate, a people-pleaser – a positive trait that I think he gets from his dad!
My 3-year-old is different. We typically have to coerce the “I’m sorry” out of her. She is reluctant to apologize after a small infraction – like taking her brother’s toys. Maybe she hesitates to show weakness, let her guard down and admit fault? (Unfortunately, this might be a trait she gets from me…) However, when she has returned to normal after one of her epic meltdowns she will offer a sincere apology. Perhaps she, like my son, finds it difficult to apologize when it is not sincere – when she is “forced” to do it because mom and dad say so. (I don’t think she actually regrets taking that toy…)
In the course of our professional and personal lives we say “I’m sorry” all the time. Like my kids, I get little satisfaction or resolution when I apologize simply to appease the other person, not from sincere regret. In reality, I often avoid apologies – for my Type A perfectionist persona, saying I’m sorry means that I am not perfect! But apologies are easier for me as I get older; I have more appreciation for the value of human relationship and recognize that I can only show God’s active presence in my life when I am open, honest and real with people I encounter!
Saying sorry can be hard because it requires humility, which is against our selfish human nature. But we are called by God to show humility, and it is through this humble servitude that we show the love of God. As it says in Philippians (verse following), humility means I value others above myself. I fail in this all the time, but through sincere apology I can better recognize where my inward focus has failed another person in relationship.
As I continue to work on this in my own life, I can also adapt how I teach my kids to say “I’m sorry.” What I really need to teach, mostly through my own actions, is humility and a servant’s attitude. For an apology is a natural reaction to humility. Being able to say I’m sorry is easy when you naturally put others above yourself!
From Philippians 2, verses 1-11 (my own bolding added):
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.