‘Yom Kippur’ the ‘Day of Atonement’ is coming up. G-d in His infinite kindness has given us a special day in the year where He forgives us for all the wrong we have done during the year.
According to Jewish tradition, if we are truly remorseful, the sins between us and G-d will be forgiven on Yom Kippur. The sins we have committed between us and our fellow man requires a little more work. We need to ask for forgiveness and say we are sorry to others in order to fully atone for our sins on Yom Kippur.
I know that this is not such a simple task for adults. It certainly gets complicated when we ask this of our kids. However, saying we are sorry to others before ‘Yom Kippur’ is easiest if we have been teaching our kids this lesson throughout the year.
Instructing kids to say “I’m sorry” is how we train our kids to have good manners. It helps us help our kids get along with others. Along these lines, we want to incorporate the Jewish ideal of atonement into their psyche; it is part of our obligation as Jewish parents.
Children need to learn the art of apology to help them throughout life. Friends make up when one says they are sorry. If you bump into someone on the street we are socially obligated to say sorry. Apologizing is an important skill to have. It is the way to be courteous, show respect to others, be socially responsible and to demonstrate accountability for our actions. No wonder G-d requires it of us.
It sounds so simple. So what is the problem? As a parent, I know I sometimes force my children to say they are sorry when they really aren’t. It can be pretty uncomfortable when our children make a social faux pas. Sometimes my embarrassment over my child’s behavior causes me to act more strictly than I should. I know I have also felt pressure from other parent’s or relatives to make my kids say they are sorry.
Unfortunately, forcing children to apologize teaches children to be insincere. One parent educator contends that it teaches children to lie. Why? Because children are usually not sorry for their behavior, they are often too angry to care.
Children may also use the word “sorry” to get themselves out of trouble. They know if they say they are sorry without meaning it, their parents will stop bothering them.
Sometimes children actually do feel bad about what they did. But then their parents may over react. Kids are then placed in a situation where they act defensively and misbehave even more.
So what can we do? Is there a way we can we teach kids the social niceties of saying they are sorry sincerely? Can we embrace the lessons of Yom Kippur in our daily lives?
I think it helps if we clarify what the lesson is that we want to teach our children. Really, better than forcing a “sorry” from our kids we should want our kids to show that they are sorry for what they have done. Ideally, we want to help them repair the damage they may have inflicted on others. We want them to recognize that saying they are sorry means that they regret what they have done because they have hurt another human being.
Does it sound like an overwhelming task? It does not have to be. Here are 4 ways that we can teach our children the right way to be sorry:
1. Give the child the benefit of the doubt:
As I am sure you know, forcing your child to say they are sorry, even when they really are, can set you up for a power struggle. Often times when we say, “Tell Sara you are sorry!” Children will refuse to cooperate. They need a way to save face. Children can run away and hide, laugh nervously, get angry or say,
“She deserved it because she was bothering me.”
“I hate her and I will never say I am sorry!”
Then the battle is on. To avoid that we need to be as gentle with the perpetrator as we are with the victim.
We can give the benefit of the doubt by assigning positive intent and say in a non-confrontational manner.
“I am sure you didn’t mean to make Mikey mad and hurt his feelings. You see that he is crying and sad. It is important to say you are sorry when you hurt someone. It shows that you care. You might want to do that now.”
2. Actions speak louder than words:
There are some children who will say they are sorry but it is better if we can encourage them to follow up with an action that truly shows they are remorseful. Parents can say, “Telling Jack you are sorry is a great first step. Is there anything you can do to show him that you are sorry?”
Younger children may need some help figuring out ways to demonstrate their sorrow. We can offer them some options:
“You pulled Ari’s hair, you can make him feel better by making nice to his head. Here, I will show you how.”
“You might want to buy Micah a new ball with your allowance or you can give him one of your own. How do you think that would work?”
It might take a little more tact with older kids. Parents can try saying,
“I don’t want to butt into your business. The problem is Sara was upset about what you said about her dress. You might want to throw a kind word her way.”
3. Plan for the future:
When children make mistakes we can use it as an opportunity to teach them that they are in control of improving their behavior. We want to let them know that we have faith that they can react appropriately in difficult situations. After we have helped them make amends we can say, “The next time that Sara says your picture is silly, is there a better way you can handle it, instead of hitting her? Do you think you can find your words and say ‘I don’t like being made fun of!’ instead of using your hands?”
For older kids you can say, “I know you felt bad when you found Eli’s borrowed notes all crumpled in the bottom of your backpack. I am sure that you will find a way to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
When parents gently review children’s behavior they give children an opportunity to learn from their experience. Children can then make plans and have goals on how to make amends in the future.
4. Role Model:
The best way to teach kids anything is through role modeling. They learn best by watching us. Children need to see their parents be genuinely contrite in order to learn the meaning of being truly remorseful.
I know I have plenty of opportunities to model this type of behavior. In the course of the day, I say things I don’t mean, yell because I am tired and accuse my kids falsely. I know that if say I am sorry in all these situations it teaches my kids a valuable lesson. It is a live example of what they can do when they mess up and hurt someone’s feelings.
Parents can say:
“I am sorry I yelled before, I was tired and seeing the mess set me off. I wish I would have been able to tell you calmly what I needed.”
“I am sorry I accused you of leaving the milk out, I should have given you the benefit of the doubt.”
“I am sorry I hurt your feelings, I overreacted before, sometimes I say things that I shouldn’t.”
Yom Kippur teaches us all about true atonement and how to say we are sorry sincerely. Let’s not miss this opportunity to get our kids in on the action. Giving kids the benefit of the doubt, teaching them to show their remorse, helping them plan to be better in the future and role modeling are all ways we can do just that.
Adina Soclof works as a Parent Educator for Bellefaire Jewish Children’s Bureau facilitating “How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk” workshops as well as workshops based on “Siblings Without Rivalry.” Adina also runs ParentingSimply.com. Check out her online classes and visit her website at www.parentingsimply.com.