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The Art Of Apologizing

Last week, when my son came home from school, he related an incident to me. He, at the age of twelve, still relates ‘everything’ to me, unlike my daughter who at the age of seventeen, is very selective about what she tells me, especially if it concerns her friends, as there’s only so much my very ‘Indian’ sensibilities can take!

He said that some older boys had been playing with a baseball in the ping pong zone in school. This is something that has been expressly forbidden in school in that area. He was in the zone when the ball rolled near him. Without a second thought he picked it up and threw it to one of the boys. I’ve yet to see a boy, or a man, for that matter, who can resist kicking or catching a ball, while simply passing by, close to where a ball game is in progress! The other boy failed to catch the ball and it bounced gently off the leg of a teacher who happened to be walking by, along with his colleague.

The other teacher stooped down and pocketed the ball. My son rushed up to the teacher who had been hit and very politely, apologized. He said he was really sorry and hoped the teacher hadn’t got hurt. The teacher was completely taken aback and blurted out he hadn’t heard an apology as good as this one, for a long time, more so as it wasn’t even this particular student’s fault, as it was obvious he had not been playing with the group of boys. The teacher who had confiscated the ball was totally charmed too and returned the ball to the older boys with a warning.

Our children learn this important ‘art’ (oh yes, it is an art that doesn’t come easily to all and sundry) from none other than us, the parents. It starts long before our children become articulate, when we apologize to them every time they bump that little head or get a shot on that dimpled thigh. As anxious parents we feel completely responsible for anything that hurts them in the least and we rush to say sorry and rub the affected area.

The next lesson is imparted to them when they inadvertently push, bump, shove other toddlers or snatch toys from other kids’ hands. That’s when we start pushing them to be responsible for their own actions and we trot out an apology to the affected child, making our toddler repeat the words after us. It sounds really cute, but is a necessary lesson. Else, a few years down the line, we will have a completely unapologetic and unfeeling monster on our hands!

And so, at each stage of their growing years, our children learn to apologize, initially after being nudged by us, (“You started the fight with your best friend, you have to say sorry first”) and subsequently start apologizing on their own because they learn to accept that whenever it is genuinely their fault, it is they alone who must make amends. They soon learn, too, that sometimes an apology is in order when something is perceived to be their fault, while in reality, it may not be. Yes, that’s life!

We, as parents, can set fine examples because one of the first rules of parenting is ‘Practice what you preach’. So just because your children are children, it does not mean you never say sorry to them. It could be because you wrongly accused them of something, it could be because you thought they were lying when, in fact, as you discovered later, they were telling the gospel truth or it could be because you had promised to buy them a treat but completely forgot about it on your way home! (The last one happens to me more often than I would care to admit). Whatever you do, never apologize for disciplining them as by doing so, you are undermining your own words and they will rarely take you seriously again if you launch into a profuse apology five minutes after yelling at them, when you and they, both know it was a well deserved yelling!

There is a fine line between grovelling and issuing an abject apology and saying a simple, heartfelt sorry. A child should never have to beg for forgiveness. An apology should be given and accepted equally graciously. There’s a lesson there too!

At the same time, the child must be made to realize that he or she cannot get away with a half hearted sorry, especially for more severe offences like playing ball in the hall, despite being told not to do so innumerable times, and breaking your favourite vase as a result. The apology must be accompanied by something concrete like a part of the pocket money being docked until the vase has been paid for. This is just an example but you get the general idea. Children must be taught, not just to apologize, but to also face the consequences of their actions, long before they step out into the real word.

If you do not agree with what I am saying, what can I say but, ‘I’m sorry’! As a mother of a teen and a pre teen, I have become a master at the art of both receiving and giving apologies…

Meet Anupama – An archaeologist by qualification, an educational entrepreneur by profession, a linguist by inclination, a writer by vocation! I am a mother of an eleven year old son and a seventeen year old daughter. Currently based in Kenya due to my husband’s job, I manage my Academy in my home town Pune from across the ocean and continue teaching on Skype. To know about my life in Nairobi, memories from India and anything and everything that touches a chord with me, do read my blog: