By: Martianne Stanger
No one in this world is perfect. Certainly, I’m not. I make mistakes, and so do my children.
Thus, learning how to own up to wrongs, apologize for them, and move on with life in positive ways is important.
In our home, we’ve developed a three-step model for righting our wrongs. Admittedly, it does not always work perfectly, but it does typically move us towards making things better.
Our model is simple:
When ills happen—by mistake or by choice—we, first, recognize them. Sometimes, we do this on our own, and, sometimes, we need a little help to do so.
So, for example, when I have been tired and snappy with my children, I might realize it all by myself when I hear the sharp tone I am speaking with, or one of my children might make a face that suddenly illuminate how poorly I have been acting and reacting to those around me.
Or, when one of my children is in a don’t-talk-to-me-mood and I am explaining something, he might put a hand up like a duck bill and begin opening and closing it in a silent quacking motion. As soon as he does this, he might recognize the disrespect he is showing and draw his hand back or he might need a sibling or me to catch him in the act and remind him that his action is not respectful.
Or, perhaps, when shutting the bathroom door, one child does not realize another child was putting her hand in to deposit some laundry in the laundry basket. So, Child 1 mistakenly, shuts the door on Child 2’s arm. Ouch! A mistake? Yes. A hurt? Absolutely.
Whatever wrong is underway—purposefully or on accident—we must recognize it is happening before we can correct it. On our own or with help, we have to see the error or our ways.
The next step is ownership.
Here, we name what we did wrong and seek reconciliation.
So, in the cases above, I might say, “Wow. I’ve been really snappy. I’m sorry I let my tired self speak and act so unkindly to each of you. Please forgive me.”
Or, my son might say, “I know doing that was disrespectful. It drives me crazy when you talk a lot when I don’t want to listen, but I know I need to be respectful. I am sorry.”
Or, my other child might say, “I didn’t mean to hurt you. I’m sorry.”
Basically, we each admit with some specificity what we did wrong and apologize or ask forgiveness.
Then, comes a final important step: amends!
I’ve always taught my children that it is all well and good to know what we have done wrong and to apologize for it; but, in order to repair relationships and train ourselves for good, we need to make amends.
So, after taking ownership of what we’ve done, we follow up with concrete steps to make things better.
In the case of me being snappy, it might mean that I know I have spoken unkindly, so I make extra attempts to notice and name the good I see in my children and my life. Or, it might mean that I recognize my snappiness came from being overtired, so I ask the children if they’d like to snuggle with me for a restful read aloud or cuddle in for a surprise family movie time. Basically, I look at what I did and why and aim to improve things.
For my son, it might mean that since he did something disrespectful with his hand, he might try to find five kind things to do with his same hand: help me carry something, give me a hug, help make the next meal, write a kind note to me, complete a five thing tidy.
For my other child, it might mean getting ice for his injured sibling, offering to do something kind for her, or the like.
In short, if it’s possible to repair the damage of what we’ve done directly, we do so. Or, if we cannot, we at least try to build better habits of speaking and acting in positive ways, making extra efforts to repair our relationships.
Steps to Improvement
Now, as I mentioned earlier, this model is not foolproof.
It is not always as easy as 1-2-3 to right wrongs, but we have found that when we follow these steps we begin to get back on track.