Other Thoughts

Should I Make My Child Apologize? {Part Two}

June 28, 2013 by Brandy Vencel

Struggling with temptation while doing the right thing is not the same thing as being a hypocrite.[dropcap]I[/dropcap]n the book Give Them Grace, we find this commentary on apologies:

We know that some parents insist that children immediately ask for forgiveness for their offenses, sometimes so that the correction will cease. Although such parents long for immediate reconciliation and repentance, we disagree with this practice. We do not think it is ever advisable to tempt children to lie. Certainly children should be taught that pain is a consequence for disobedience and that disobedience affects others, not just themselves. They should be encouraged to as God and others {including their parents} for forgiveness, but only if they are genuinely sorry.

[snip]

Rather than insisting on an immediate show of repentance, you should give your children time to respond to the prompting of the Holy Spirit.{p. 104}

If you haven’t read Part One, please do so before jumping into this post. It helps to frame the conversation and explains a bit of my personal experience in training small children to apologize.

I agree and disagree with the excerpt above. If I was dealing with a child over about age ten, a child who had never built a habit of apologizing, that habit would need to be built differently than how I would build it with a younger child. I wouldn’t take a ten-year-old, and stand over them, and make them apologize. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I felt the need to require my eleven-year-old to apologize. It has been a number of years. Oh, I may have needed to remind him to reconcile since then, but there was no “forcing” involved.

Here’s my issue with using this principle with toddlers and preschoolers, or even early elementary age children: I can’t think of another situation in which I would tell them to spend time waiting for the “prompting of the Holy Spirit.” God gave little children parents for a reason. I am God’s minister in my child’s life, His deputed authority. To quote the DHM:

If we are not our children’s Holy Spirit we most certainly are our children’s parents. We are failing in our duties before God if we do not address wrong behavior and attitudes and help teach our children and inform their consciences. Sometimes parents think is effective to just leave an issue up the child’s conscience, when by and large, our consciences know what we have taught them to know. It also requires some maturity and strength of will to slow down and hear the voice of conscience.

For the record, I also make my children say please, thank you, you’re welcome, and a whole host of other words they may or may not feel like saying at the time, because it is my job to train their consciences and I believe that consciences are trained by actions as well as words. I do not just tell my children what is good; I require them to do it.

When I tell a small child to apologize, I am telling them to do what is right. When they are older, all of this practice in saying sorry and forgiving will bear fruit. It will have taught them what is right. If they refuse to say they are sorry, or refuse to forgive, they will know it is wrong because they have been trained their entire lives to do otherwise.

Please notice that I’m not saying that all of this will make my children into perfect adults who always apologize. Not at all. I have faith that God will work in their lives as they grow up and leave home, but I have no idea what their struggles will be. What I am saying is that I am convinced that these habits train them in knowing right and wrong — in other words, they instruct the conscience.

I believe this because it has worked out this way for me.

When I was first married, my husband trained me to say I was sorry. It took time, and honestly I thought it was annoying. Why couldn’t we just get over it inside of ourselves and then act like everything was okay? Why was all this formal reconciliation stuff so necessary?

Here I am, a dozen years later, and I can say that the training he gave me has born fruit in my life. The habit of apologizing and forgiving is now so entrenched that when I don’t feel like apologizing, I feel a huge amount of tension. The habit has trained my conscience. I know quite well that I’m wrong, and it is a big struggle inside when I’m resisting it.

As an adult, do I apologize when I don’t feel like it? No … and also yes. Like all people, I experience a mix of emotions inside. So I feel the pressure of the knowledge that it is Right to apologize when I’m wrong. I also feel that fleshly pride that doesn’t want to apologize, even if I was wrong. I think it is very normal to feel both of these thing simultaneously!

Does this make my apology an act of hypocrisy? I don’t think so. I know that it is right to apologize, and so I do so, all the while fighting the temptation of pride.

After I apologize, and I have defeated my pride {for the time being} I often feel more sorry than I did before I apologized. Struggling with temptation while doing the right thing is not the same thing as being a hypocrite — of putting on a mask to fake repentance for the sake of giving a good impression or manipulating others.

In the same way, I never pretend with my little ones that they “feel” sorry. I simply remind them that when they have done wrong, the right thing to do is apologize. As they grow older, we talk more about the need to reconcile with others. We talk about the inside — about feeling sorry, and trying not to be a repeat offender. The concept matures with age. But the vast majority of four-year-olds do not have the maturity to “listen to the Holy Spirit” on this issue, or any other issue.

This is why God gave them parents.

Next time, we’ll talk about virtue. You knew I had to go there, right?

 


Read More in This Series:

Get the (almost) weekly digest!

Weekly encouragement, direct to your inbox, (almost) every Saturday.

Powered by ConvertKit

7 Comments

  • Reply Sara June 30, 2013 at 11:45 pm

    I grew up in a family where no one apologized, except kids, when forced. It was seen as acknowledging failure or weakness. My husband and I chose to do things differently. We apologize to each other, and to our children when we blow it, and we do, often. We also require apologies AND stated forgiveness which rankles the wronged one occasionally. So our children have seen humility and grace in action, frequently, all of their lives.

    As my son went through his stormy teens we did wait for the Holy Spirit to prompt him, and to our joy found him fully capable of sincerely apologizing to me, to teachers, and teammates when he was in the wrong. I have known many adults incapable of doing this.

    I truly believe that this practice has been an important, long-term lesson about humility and grace. We all fall short.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel July 1, 2013 at 5:39 pm

      I like what you say about it being different with a teen. I think that the biggest weakness in Give Them Grace is that it makes little distinction between what you’d do with ages 6 or 7 and below {which I consider to be the prime habit-training ages} and older children or young adults.

      Thank you for sharing some of your experience with us, Sara!

  • Reply Phyllis June 30, 2013 at 11:23 am

    You have definitely gotten me thinking! I have not made my children apologize, but I do make them “fake” a smile or cheerful attitude at times. I have read concerns about doing that for about the same reasons you’ve posted that people say not to force apologies. I do it, while explaining that if you don’t feel like doing something, a good way to get around that is to pretend, and your feelings are likely to follow. Now, I’m not teaching them just to stuff the feelings. We also talk about how pouting (or screaming!) about obeying or working is just not something you can do as an adult. If you’re working a regular job, or whatever, there are going to be times when you just have to put on a happy face and do things, no matter how you feel about it.

    But about apologies… my husband has actually taught me to stop apologizing. It just annoyed him, so I quit. I think he saw it as more unnecessary chatter or something. But then, I’ve noticed lately–like you, after a dozen years–that I am having trouble with forgiveness myself. Have I gotten out of the habit of seeking reconciliation? Is it not enough to have the little conversation inside myself? (And I am still really even having those conversations?) Anyway, I’m going to start apologizing to other people again, and I am going to try to teach that to my children, too. Thank you!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel July 1, 2013 at 5:40 pm

      So Phyllis, I am curious…were you over-apologizing? I went through a stage like that, when I was learning the habit of apologizing, and it drove my husband nuts, too…so I had to ask. 🙂

  • Reply Anonymous June 29, 2013 at 1:57 am

    I concur with Trisha!
    Julie in St. Louis

  • Reply Trisha June 28, 2013 at 11:28 pm

    A big “Yes!” to this post, Brandy. Well said.

  • Reply GretchenJoanna June 28, 2013 at 9:34 pm

    You are right about the forming of the conscience. And as to what is the Holy Spirit, what is our conscience – God only knows how all this works! But I am reminded of how we have the Psalms as a teacher of our spirits so that we would learn how to pray, because just always being spontaneous and honest doesn’t make for Christlike people, either. We even have Psalm 51 to teach us to ask forgiveness. Would it be hypocritical or bad for our Christian development for us to pray that Psalm if we don’t “mean it”? If this, a kind of patterning, is a way that God teaches us, it is likely a good way to instruct our children, too.

  • Leave a Reply