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    Should I Make My Child Apologize? {Part Three}

    July 2, 2013 by Brandy Vencel

    Virtue is attained when the bad is conquered by the good and what should be becomes what is.[dropcap]B[/dropcap]efore I finish up this series, I want to reiterate something that I’ve already said in the comments: my aim here is not to convince you that you should do as I do. I always enjoy making you think {as I also enjoy you making me think}, but my main purpose is actually to give a defense of training young children to apologize. After all, if a popular book is going to criticize the practice, we should certainly have the discussion of whether or not there is any other perspective to be had on the subject.

    All of that to say: please don’t feel like this is pressure from me to change your family’s habits. I’m just doing what I always do: Afterthinking.

    Moving ever onward…

    There are many virtues, but I think courage is the one that best suits this conversation. Courage is interesting because it obviously necessitates a negative emotion: fear. When a man commits a courageous act, he does something — something dangerous, usually — in spite of his fear. If he did the act, but didn’t feel fear, we would rightfully call the act dangerous, but we wouldn’t call it brave because bravery requires the overcoming of fear.

    People who do dangerous things without feeling fear are not brave and are usually doing something rash and stupid. There is no virtue in this sort of thing.

    When we talk about authenticity, we can sometimes get a little confused. If someone does a brave act, is he really being authentic? After all, he’s scared. Wouldn’t the most authentic thing to do be to run away and hide? Is he a hypocrite in doing this dangerous deed, because what he really feels is fear and his actions are contrary to his feelings?

    I think we’d all say no, no he’s not a hypocrite. He was courageous, in spite of his fear.

    My point is: All virtues contain a negative component.

    You see, virtue is attained when the bad is conquered by the good and what should be becomes what is. So chastity conquers lust, courage conquers fear, faith conquers doubt, and love?

    Omnia vincit amor, to quote Virgil.

    Love conquers all.

    This sort of overcoming is not the same thing as hypocrisy.

    But sometimes we get mixed up. We start to think that our authentic self is that self that wants to lust, fear, doubt, and basically wallow in sin. Well, that is a lie. The temptations are real, but so is the possibility of goodness. If we have been made new in Christ, we are a new creation, God is making all things new, including us. There’s a battle to be fought, of course {this is not a magical instantaneous transformation}, but Good really does win in the end — in the world, as well as in us.

    To return to our conversation on apologies, there are really two takes on requiring children to apologize. On the one hand, we have the stance taken by folks like the authors of Give Them Grace:

    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.

    If we encourage children to ask for forgiveness when their hearts haven’t been stricken by the rod of the Holy Spirit’s conviction, we are training them to be hypocritical. We are inadvertently teaching them that false professions of sorrow will satisfy God.


    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}

    The assumption here is that because we are asking the child to do or say something that is incongruent with their feelings, we are training them in hypocrisy. This, however, denies the idea that we often have to do things we do not feel like doing, and that while virtue deals with overcoming passions and temptation, hypocrisy deals in deception — it is a faking of religion where there actually is none.

    On the other hand, hypocrisy isn’t the issue at hand at all. Hypocrisy is more likely cultivated in homes where appearances mean everything, rather than where reconciliation and admission of wrong is a bedrock value. When a child is asked to do something he doesn’t want to do, and he learns to make himself do it, he is learning to say yes to what is right and no to his lower impulses. He is learning to be what God created him to be.

    We are completely comfortable asking our children to do right in many other areas. We ask them to tell the truth, to say please and thank you, to do their chores, to be respectful of others, and on and on. We ask them to do right. I see no reason to treat apologies as a special, sacred ground, upon which we parents must not tread.

    Training children in good habits pays a cultural dividend. Just as the Church and society will benefit from children who have been trained in honesty and manners, so will they benefit from children who have been trained that reconciliation is a matter of course. Children are not learning to fake it when they learn to do what is right. {I suppose an exception to this would be if you were trying to make them feel sorry but I have yet to meet a good parent who thinks they can control a child’s feelings by force.}

    They are, rather, learning to practice virtue on a small scale, which is to say that even a child in his tiny, small world, can learn to overcome evil with good. Their consciences are being trained to know what is right. All of this will not guarantee that they will be quick to apologize when they are grown, but surely it will guarantee that they know reconciliation is their duty, and their many hours of practice mean that they know how to initiate it.

    Or, to sum up my own opinion, virtue starts at home and is built incident by incident, line upon line, precept upon precept, habit upon habit.

    [W]hat you would have the man become, you must train the child to be.
    Charlotte Mason

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  • Reply AJ February 20, 2018 at 5:46 pm

    This is a very refreshing and encouraging post, very different from other advice I have come across while struggling with this issue with my bright and articulate 3-year-old who is very stubborn. Example: She knows she is not allowed to climb into her little brother’s crib, but she did despite my warning. She does not know how to get out. We told her we would help her get out if she says sorry (quite an easy way out!). Instead she chose to cry for an hour, miss dinner (she had eaten a hearty late lunch and we brought her water) and soon fell asleep. I don’t like for her to go to bed angry but we gave her many opportunities to reconcile and she did not. We are wondering if we are doing the right thing. Maybe we are crazy, but we just want her to learn that it’s important to apologize, and we are struggling with the “how” of teaching her that. Is it an issue of her pride or regular developmental three-year-old war of wills? I would value your honest opinion and advice.

  • Reply Maggie July 18, 2017 at 1:51 pm

    I enjoyed all three parts of this. Your take on virtue (always containing an unpleasant or negative element) is spot-on. I require apologies of my children, but in the interest of not “asking them to lie,” I will accept different words. For instance, “I was wrong, please forgive me.” It is simple and honest to admit wrongdoing without claiming a person is sorry.
    Interestingly, I had encouraged this for years while still insisting on a kind, appropriate tone and face. I would have them repeat it over and over until they were apologizing in a manner that they would want from a person who was apologizing to them. It is a huge drag sometimes, but the best compromise, I think.

  • Reply Toni February 8, 2017 at 9:10 pm

    A belated reading of this post. Actually, I was interested in reading the series a while back, but I was put off by the first quote from Give Them Grace – I thought your post would reiterate the excerpt in the book, and I simply couldn’t agree. Now that I’ve actually read the series, I see that I agree with you on every point. I haven’t read Give Them Grace, but another book on grace-filled Christian parenting left me with the same kind of tension that you describe, and wondering, “But what do I do with my three year old?!” Young children should be trained to know what it is to be sorry and why, and to recognize their own offenses toward others. I deeply appreciate your affirmation of the duty to train our children in virtue. Thank you!

  • Reply Julie December 12, 2016 at 8:44 am

    I totally agree! Thanks Brandy for the food for thought.

  • Reply Rondalyn Ohrenberg April 8, 2016 at 11:56 pm

    Thank you so much for this series! This is so affirming and encouraging. I learned of Charlotte Mason (and Ambleside Online) only a few months ago, just before my daughter turned three. As I read CM’s writings and others’ interpretation and commentary, I struggle with how to implement habit formation. CM says that we do not want to enforce the wrong habits by constantly telling children to do such and such, because that teaches children not to take responsibility, but only to respond when we nag. She advocates making them think about the right action before taking it, in order to process the thought and ingrain the habit. But my (now) four-year-old doesn’t always know what “right” is. I really appreciate your explanation. Thank you for articulating so well the difference between hypocrisy and doing what is right in spite of myself, and our responsibility as parents to train our children in this virtue. (I need to pull a few pithy quotes from the blog for my Commonplace!)

  • Reply amy in peru July 4, 2013 at 2:03 am

    i especially like the love conquers all part.

  • Reply Hollie Dermer July 2, 2013 at 11:45 pm

    Well said. 🙂

  • Reply Vanessa July 2, 2013 at 8:33 pm

    I’m really enjoying this series, and especially appreciated this post!


  • Reply Anonymous July 2, 2013 at 4:08 pm

    Excellent post, Brandy. Thank you for this series!
    Julie in St. Louis

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