Apology has some interesting problems in our culture. I have three that come up with kids a lot.
Over-apologizing. Especially with girls, there's a tendency to apologize for everything, and we tend to teach that to our daughters. Women have this addressed as a work issue - it is hard to get ahead if every-other interaction is you saying sorry for something, even when it isn't your fault or your problem. It's an entrained reaction of the submissive position in the hierarchy, the clamped tail thump and lip crinkle with the neck exposed, in the dog world. It's a self-protective 'I'm weaker than you, don't bite me' reaction. And it isn't useful unless there is actually that kind of power curve present. I find that the clear, direct, and complete four-steps version prevents the apology from being presented as a weaker-than situation (it is neutral to the power curve). I can apologize that way to people above, below, and equal status and have it do nothing but possibly raise my position in the hierarchy. One of my bosses loved that kind of apology because I made clear that I understood the problem, and that I was not going to bring that problem back with me the next time we interacted - I had a plan to solve it before it happened again. She didn't have to store the information, she knew it would be a non-issue in the future. I also made sure I didn't repeat - taking the apology seriously means taking the solutions seriously. I did sometimes make the same mistake twice, but presented it as a forward path - I tried to solve it this way, that way didn't work, now I have a new strategy in place. She was okay with that as long as I was taking action when something happened. I didn't tend to develop strategies until I had already stumbled, but I have a nice set of strategies in place that match my entire working life's experience. I do okay. I still mess up in new situations, but I keep moving and looking for the forward opportunity. That mindset is included in the steps of the apology.
Stand-in apology. Another issue with how apology is used at least in the parenting world, is the stand-in apology. I wince when I watch people apologize for their child as if they are channeling the child's spirit. "Joey is sorry he hit you, he didn't mean to hurt your feelings." Meanwhile, Joey is standing there with a gleeful expression on his face. Or even standing there with a remorseful expression, but with relief as well - he doesn't have to do the hard part. Now, there are times to speak for your child, and kids who don't speak well for themselves (Miss M is one of them). But the approach has to be carefully managed so the child has the opportunity to learn the skill, rather than just being protected from the discomfort. Miss M's Fructose Malabsorption reaction includes a crash in her serotonin levels (the fermentation blocks tryptophan, tryptophan is required in order to produce serotonin and other essential compounds for proper function). As a result, she ends up with crushing anxiety if her diet goes off. Clearly (if you read the last post), she does pretty well at this point. But the child psychologist who did the home visit for Early Intervention (after they saw at her assessment how paralyzed she was) was very clear - step one is protect from the difficult situation, but if you stop there, you cripple their growth. Step two is that you teach them strategies for handling the situation, so that they eventually don't need your help anymore. With apology, you've got two choices:
- Speaking for yourself regarding the child. I am sorry Miss M hit you. I don't like it when she hits, and I'm sure you didn't like being hit. I will work with Miss M to help her learn how to handle this without hitting. Is there anything we can do to help you feel better? It's not the same as 'Miss M is sorry she hit you' - regardless of whether she is.
- Help your child speak - without channeling. Interpretation is allowed. Miss M knows that hitting isn't allowed, and it hurts. *bring Miss M over* Miss M, Suzie is crying. She didn't like being hit. *look at Miss M's face, assess her reaction and identify where in the process she is* MIss M, can you look at Suzie? She's crying. What should we do? *If Miss M shows remorse, THEN interpret for her - I'm still careful to not put words in her mouth, as it is a bad habit to get into, IMHO. If she doesn't look sorry, continue the process to a resolution* Miss M looks sad. I think she is sorry. Does she look sorry? Yeah, she does. We'll work together to find a way to keep that from happening again. Is there anything we can do to help you feel better?
Apology for fault vs apology as empathy. This one comes up a lot in our house. Someone banged into someone else. It was an accident, but someone is hurt, and feels a need for a compensating and reconnecting interaction. The person whose fault it was doesn't feel much need to apologize - it wasn't on PURPOSE. Jeez. But. But sometimes the wounded party still needs to know they matter, they need to re-set the interaction so they're not feeling resentful and wounded, and the person who caused the injury - even unintentional - needs to make their interactions safe. We talk through the difference - saying 'I didn't mean to' or 'it was an accident' is allowed, provided the other steps are still followed.
Okay, done with apology. For now, anyway.
Heads-up: This week is going to be nuts at work, hope to get in a few posts this week... wish me luck.