It’s O.K. to Apologize to Children, Especially When You are Wrong.

 I am Sorry

It’s O.K. to apologize to your children, especially when you are wrong. Nearly 20 years as an educator and ten as a father has taught me so.

We all too often let how we were raised interfere with doing the right thing and, if that is not the case our arrogance and pride takes over. Our insecurities do not allow us to be wrong in particular with children.

I was having an interesting conversation with my brother-in-law during a vacation to Mexico. We were sharing some of our childhood memories. He talked about how frustrating it was to constantly be reprimanded for things he did not do. I could see the pain and irritation in his eyes as if it just happened yesterday. He could not understand when his mother was wrong about a reprimand a simple apology would have sufficed. I too remember how it feels to be reprimanded for something I did not do to be vindicated at the end with no apology.

Apologizing to a child can be one of the most therapeutic things one can do for both the child and yourself. This acknowledges the child and lets them know that how they feel means something to you. It validates their emotions and allows them multiple avenues to process them.

Long days at work, stress illness can make people short tempered and irritated. This sadly to say happens to me just like most Americans. One day, I arrived home from work and had a few E-mails that I needed to address. I jump on my computer and started typing away. My daughter was home waiting for me and wanted to play. The responses were taking longer than I thought and she came over and hugged me. In doing so interrupted me. I raised my voice and told her that I did not have time to play and that she needed to wait for me in the living room. The look on her face was of complete shock and she ran up stairs to cry. All she wanted to do was play with me, I could not continue to work feeling horrible for what I just did. I made my way upstairs knocked on her door and asked if I could speak with her. She mumbled yes with her face in the pillow and I walked in. I leaned against the bed and told her I was sorry for being so mean, I shouldn’t have raised my voice and I was wrong. She looked at me directly in my eyes and said O.K. Papi and hugged me. I stopped what I was doing and played with my daughter. She was ecstatic. We played Mario Cart on Nintendo for about an hour after her homework was done. While we were praying before bedtime I can see the look of pure satisfaction on her face. She gave me another hug and told me that she loved me. Being wrong and admitting it never felt so right. She truly appreciated my apology.

The same concept can be applied to the classroom as well. Building a culture of trust and respect starts with developing a strong rapport with your students. Classroom management isn’t just about seating arrangements and detention. It is about building relationships and capitalizing on them when necessary.

Emotions are real for children as in adults. The major difference hypothetically is that adults are able to deal with their emotions more effectively.

I currently teach Sociology to seniors at Newark Collegiate Academy a K.I.P.P. school. Last year, I had a student that was notorious for his disruptive and defiant behavior. I knew his mother on a first name basis since I am also the Dean of students of the school. Obviously was prepared for him and sat him accordingly in my seating chart.

The first week of school I ended up giving the young man detention for inappropriate behavior and an In School Suspension for disrespectful comments towards another student. The kid was batting a thousand. A few weeks into the semester while I was writing on the board with my back towards the class someone threw a piece of paper at me. I naturally assumed it was the student in question. So I turned around and sent him out of the class and had him wait in my office until I had an opportunity to speak with him. Before the class ended another student admitted to me that he was the one who actually threw the piece of paper. I was dumbfounded for two reasons. First I was wrong and second the young man was penalized for something he did not do. I thanked the other student for admitting his wrongdoing and assigned him detention. Now what was I to do with the student that was innocent? Should I simply let him back into class as if nothing happened? Or do I fess up and admit I was wrong and apologize? The next day I pulled him from lunch and apologized to him one to one. He smiled and sought of rubbed my face in it. Instead of justifying my behavior and get into a whole discussion about “Modus Operandi” and reputation I let him have that moment. I also decided to apologize to him in front of the whole class since it took place during that time. I could see him basking in his glory and that was fine. One thing I learned from my current position was that in this situation it paid to be effective as opposed to being right. For the most part the remainder of the year was a success for this young man. His disruptive behavior was minimized and addressing him was much easier because there was a moment where we came to understanding. He viewed the world as unfair and I gave him one less reason to believe so. He ended up getting a B in my class and aced the final.

Teaching children that we as parents and teachers are perfect can damage a child indefinitely, forcing them to live up to unrealistic expectations. It is perfectly fine to let our children see our faults, and help them understand that we will fall occasionally. As long as we keep getting up they will follow suit.

“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”

Frederick Douglass

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