Parents find it shocking when I give the advice ‘don’t force your child to say ‘I’m sorry’ after an incident.’ They think I am letting kids off the hook. Not true! Let me take a moment to clarify my reasons.
First, to be clear, I want your children to have good manners and develop a true sense of empathy and compassion for others. Yes, I want them to take responsibility for their actions and to make amends when someone has been wronged. All of those pursuits are important. I am only suggesting a different means and method to arrive at that end.
When parents simply force a child with the ole’ parenting chestnut, ‘Come on now, say you’re sorry,’ they invite that classic nasal and sarcastic reply, ‘I’m saaaawry’.
Step into the child’s mindset and emotional state. You can imagine that any empathy that they were feeling because of their wrong doing just flew out the window as their parents put the spotlight on them and their screw up, which is now on public display. Embarrassing.
Next, you’re commanded to apologize (as if you wouldn’t have capacity to do so of your own volition). Well, it’s humiliating and degrade, frankly.
Why They Do It:
- The child’s use of a mocking tones serve to help them save face and keep a shred of dignity in the moment.
- The child is saying with their behaviour, ‘I won’t be forced against my will. You can’t make me. You might be able to force me to say ‘I’m sorry,’ but you can’t make me feel it – HA! I win! I defeat you!’
- Sadly, it becomes a war between parent and child, a total distraction from the actual task of learning from their mistake, helping the harmed party feel better and ultimately making amends for the incidents.
- The child begins to feel angry at their parents and instead of owning the responsibility for their behaviour, they feel the other party actually got them in trouble with their parents, so they don’t feel empathy or remorse anymore. In fact, they now feel justified and not responsible.
What to Do Instead?
- Modeling. If you are one to say ‘sorry’ when you err, they will mimic you. Trust me on this one.
- Pause. That’s right. Give kids a moment to volunteer a genuine response to a situation before you jump in two guns a blazin’. You may well discover that your children do say they are sorry, if given a moment to compose themselves.
- Focus on the future. Instead of forcing them to say sorry about the past, which they can’t change, put the focus on their commitment to do something differently in the future. ‘Can you let your friend know that you won’t take his bike without asking again.’
- Ask your child ‘what should happen now?’ If they broke a neighbour’s window playing ball, letting the child think for themselves of how to right the situation; it helps build empathy, internalizes the lesson, and generates positive feelings about rectifying the situation. Replacing the window with their allowance and writing a letter stating it was an accident and promising to play in the park in the future feels restorative when they come up with the idea.
If you have decided that summer camp makes sense for your family, here are some tips to set your kids up for success:
- Decide your expectations and state them clearly to your child. If you don’t care whether he goes for one day and then skips the rest, that’s fine. If your plan is for him to attend every day, make that very clear and follow through.
- Be sure to read the instructions ahead of time and work with your child to be sure she has everything she needs.
- If your child can see the location ahead of time, or look at pictures online, it may help him feel more comfortable. Discussing the schedule will also help him feel more in control of the situation.
- Nerves are normal. Empathise and teach some strategies for dealing with the feelings. ‘Sounds like you feel a bit nervous—that’s a normal feeling when you are doing something new. Let’s help you to find your courage so that you know how to handle that nervous feeling.’ (Be sure she knows what to say if she has questions and who she can ask; Be sure that she knows her phone number or that it is written somewhere if she needs help; She might imagine that she is a brave character facing this situation.)
- Check your own feelings: if you are concerned, be sure that the camp is safe and has a good reputation. Ask questions to feel comfortable and then express your confidence to your kids and your belief that they are capable. Plan your drop-off routine on the first day so that everyone is set up for success. Plan a quick hug and know your ‘exit line’: I’ll be back at 3 pm and look forward to hearing about your exciting first day. I know you can do this!’ Then LEAVE.
Here are five tips on what to do if you think you’ve become a mother to your man:
1. The first step to becoming partners again is owning and acknowledging what we call the ‘Mother Syndrome’ problem. Even though many women tell me how resentful and angry they are about having to take on the bulk of responsibility at home, despite having a career and working as many hours as their spouse, they typically don’t make the connection between this and their lack of intimacy (not to mention respect, love, fun) until I point it out. Then, they usually sigh with relief—finally understanding how impossible it is to feel like being a lover to one’s mate when you feel like you’re his mother!
2. We ask you to assess the main task areas in your home, from cleaning to food to management to child-rearing, and see what is happening in these areas and how each of them can make you his mother. What we found in researching our book is that in spite of women holding down day-jobs, they are still doing two-thirds of the homemaking and childcare, and three-quarters of the ‘core’ tasks. And those are just averages: the situation is even worse in many homes.
3. The next step is understanding the broken dynamics and toxic behaviours that have evolved between you and your spouse as a result of being stuck in this dismal state. These behaviours can include nagging, sniping, acting like a child. There is resentment in the air on both sides, and you eventually see your spouse as just another one of your children. He doesn’t like this any more than you do. It’s a travesty of the romance you once had.
4. Once you’ve owned the problem and understood the broken dynamics between you, you will need to explore the sexual fallout. Why would you want to be intimate with your partner when you’re so angry at him for not pulling his weight at home? For not being on your team? You may not even be aware—until now—of all the anti-erotic signals you send him so that he’ll keep his distance. Like wearing a tatty nightshirt to bed or clipping your toenails in bed.
5. Then you will need to get your wish list straight. You will need to figure out what tasks and responsibilities you’re willing to relinquish control of and what you want to hold onto. Once you’ve drawn your own picture, you’ll need to get his input too, so that you can begin negotiating the best way to balance your contributions at home.
Read more of Sara’s tips in How Can I Be Your Lover When I’m Too Busy Being Your Mother?
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Why can’t siblings just get along? Why do they have to bicker, tattle and fight constantly? How come they always want what the other one has? Does it really matter who pushes the elevator button this time? Every thing is such drama when you have more than one kid.
As parents, we need to help our children learn to get along and we also have to help encourage a more caring and cooperative relationship between siblings. Unfortunately, the way most parents go about it is not only ineffective, but actually stimulates more fights than it fixes!
Here are my 5 tips for ensuring you are doing the right things to reduce sibling rivalry and help your kids get along better.
- Ignore: Almost all sibling fights are really just a creative way for children to get their parents’ attention. It’s a sad truth that well behaved kids get ignored and those who misbehave get attention. Teach your children the opposite. When they play nicely, tell them how much you enjoy them getting along, so much so that you are choosing to stay and enjoy their company. When they start treating each other badly, tell them it’s not fun for you anymore so you’re going to do something else instead. Instruct them to come get you when they can play nicely together, and leave the room. Do this consistently for one week and I promise you’ll notice a big improvement.
- Put Them in the Same Boat: This is an expression that means rather than pitting them against one another, you need to group them into the same situation so they have to work together. For example, if two kids are fighting over a toy, they both loose the toy until they can agree on how to share it. If things get physical, send them BOTH to their rooms for a short time out. This assures you don’t accidentally take sides and show favouritism. It forces them to learn the benefits of getting along and sharing.
- Don’t Compare: Parents mistakenly think that they will motivate change in behaviour by comparing siblings with comments like ‘Jake is ready for school, why are you so slow? Or ‘Grace ate her whole supper, what is your problem?’ These types of comparisons don’t motivate children to keep up with their siblings. It just creates more animosity, which kills cooperation and stimulates conflict.
- Listen Without Fixing: If one child comes to you complaining about how their sibling mistreated them, took a toy without asking or any other such complaint, listen empathetically but don’t take the bait and get pulled into their business: ‘Sounds like you are really upset with Zack for pushing you off the bike. You were scared and could have been hurt. Here is a hug. I am glad you are okay, but this sounds like something you need to speak to Jake about.’ This reinforces the notion that while you are loving and caring, it’s not your job to make sure your children get along. It’s their problem to deal with one another.
- Family Meetings: To ensure that you are still able to provide parental guidance and support to all in the family, hold weekly family meetings to discuss such issues during a time of calm rather than during the time of conflict. If Jake keeps pushing his brother off his bike, and you have tried ignoring it, you have taken the bike away until the boys worked out a system on their own, and these have failed, it’s time to put it on the agenda for the family meeting and see if the bigger brain trust of the whole family can come up with a solution together. The meeting is NOT about blaming Jake and giving him some disciplinary action. It’s a meeting to problem solve the issue of proper bike safety.
If you’d like more of Alyson’s insights and tips on sibling relationships, be sure to watch the upcoming CBC documentary Sibling Rivalry: Near, Dear and Dangerous which airs Sept 6th at 9 pm on CBC Doc Zone. For a preview of the documentary and to hear an 8 minute interview with Alyson, click here.