Don’t Force Your Child to Apologize
Why do any of us, kids and adults, struggle with apologizing?
Refusal to apologize is a sign of shame and defensiveness. When a person feels his character is under attack, there is no way he will apologize for whatever lead to such unmanageable “I’m a bad person” feelings.
Our bodies have to protect our goodness before anything else, and if that goodness is in question, our body enters into an animal defense state to protect itself.
Shame brings on a freeze response, which is why our children look wide-eyed and non-responsive to our imploring them to say “I’m sorry”; the part of their brain that processes language and logic are off-line because feeling unloveable and unattachable locks them into a state of terror.
So what do we do? First lower the shame, then model repair.
What’s the opposite of shame? CONNECTION.
Shame is the feeling of “this part of me is not connectable – no one wants to know or be with this part.” What looks like stubbornness on the outside is really the activation of this core fear: “The part of me that just did that ‘bad thing’ … that part of me is BAD. I am all alone in this world.'” To change this dynamic, we have to see a child’s goodness under his behavior.
Share with your child that YOU see his goodness, that you know he has a repair in him but just can’t find it right now (this is actually true – once the shame diminishes, he’ll have access again). Then model repair yourself in front of your child. Don’t turn to your child after and say “See that was easy!” Just let the experience speak for itself and move on.
Does this let your child “off the hook?” No. That’s not a thing.
This shows your child that good kids sometimes do bad things and that even when they do, repair and connection is possible. This will allow your child to, over time, find his goodness under his bad behavior and to one day soon generate his own apologies.
We have to help a child find his good feelings about himself before delivering some of those good feelings to an injured party. Trust the process.
Check out #drbeckyapology on Instagram for a corresponding IGTV where I act out and model this apology process.
Try This At Home:
When your child refuses to apologize, do this:
Roll with the resistance: “It’s hard to find your apology voice. I’ll use it for you.”
And model the repair, yourself: “I’m sorry, Piper. I was so frustrated, and it came out as a hit. I’m working on staying calmer when I have big feelings. Anything I can do to help?”