G. and L. are having a playdate. L. has a toy, and G. wants it so he hits L. over the head and takes it. Parent G runs over, grabs the toy from G. and says sternly, “Say you’re sorry!”
“Srryyy…” mumbles G.
Parent G hands the toy to Parent L who hands it to L. and says, “Say it’s okay.”
“It’s okay?” says L, a bit bewildered. The children return to playing, and the parents return to chatting on the couch. It’s okay. But is it?
We have made a slightly controversial decision not to make our daughter say “I’m sorry.” When she does something to hurts someone else or make them feel bad, I make sure she understands that her action is unacceptable (“E., is it okay to throw a toy at your friend? Do you think it could make her say ouch?” “Yes, Mommy.”) After she understands this, we ask her if she should do it anymore. If she says no, then we say, “If you know it was the wrong thing, and you want to stop doing it, you can say you are sorry.”
We also don’t make her say, “It’s okay,” if someone else does something to her. Because you know what? It isn’t okay to be hit over the head. It actually stinks. Forgiving someone doesn’t mean that you just say that it’s fine and move on (even if you really, really want it to be fine–there are usually steps to be taken between being hurt and being fine). It means that you recognize you have been hurt but that you want to move forward. We are in the process of teaching her to say, “I forgive you,” in a similar way to how we taught her about being sorry. Sorry was like this:
1. E., is M. okay? you threw the ball and it hit her in the face?
2. E., you can tell M. is saying ouch! can you check and see if you can do anything?
3. E., M said ouch! Should you throw the ball close to her?
4. E., M. said ouch! Should you throw the ball close to her? Are you going to do that anymore?
I think “I forgive you,” will go something like this:
1. E., did you like that she hit you?
2. E., do you feel angry? Do you wish she would stop it?
3. E., do you think there will be other good things after right now? Do you want to stop feeling angry?
That is the process of arriving at forgiveness…recognizing you have been hurt, acknowledging bad feelings you have (whether you want to keep them or not), and affirming that in spite of bad feelings, you are choosing to release the other person from vengeance (or any jail where you’d like to keep them in your head). After all, if it was really as okay as we insist, what would be the point of apologizing?