Social Skills Series #25: Saying You’re Sorry

There was an incident once with a Kindergartener named Pete. He had a toy and was distracting the other kids with it. When I tried to confiscate it, he didn’t seem to think I had the authority to take it from him. He tightened his grip on the toy, looked straight into my eyes and said, “I’m stronger.”

I didn’t quite know how to respond to a dominance display like that. I mean, what was I supposed to do, pin the little sucker? Show him who was alpha? Obviously not. I filled out an incident report form and let Mr. D handle the kid. He’s the one with experience dealing with issues of that kind.

Pete is a good kid. He was having some issues and we were working together to help him. I don’t know why he felt he had to challenge me in class, but that’s not the point of the story: this story is about his apology.

I was sitting alone in the music room and there came a tap at the door. In came Pete, wide-eyed and contrite, and handed me a card.

“I’M SO SORRY,” it said on the front in red marker. It was an open-hearted, sincere apology, and darkly funny, since the crooked Kindergarten scrawl made it look rather like he had written it in his own blood.

Pete and I had a much better relationship after his crimson repentance. Both of us were more relaxed around each other. He was more willing to listen to me, even in his bad moods. Also, I will admit, I was more willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. His apology had showed me that he was trying.

Apologies have a certain magic, when given with an open heart. Sean Covey gives a perfect explanation of their power in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens:

[A]pologies disarm people. When people get offended their tendency is to take up a sword, so to speak, to protect themselves in the future. But when you apologize, you take away their desire to fight you and they will drop their swords. Clank!

No matter their age, it’s worth reminding kids that apologies are never as scary as they seem. There can be a lot of anticipatory anxiety around admitting that you’ve done something wrong, but once you do it, everyone feels better, and the relationship can carry on untainted by guilt or resentment.

RECOMMENDED: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens by Sean Covey

Vanessa Farkas is a writer, musician, educator, and lifetime learner who worked at the Phoenix Education Foundation as a music teacher from 2010-2018 and has left to retrain and pursue a new career as a legal assistant. Her eight years at Phoenix have left her enriched with experiences and stories, and this series blends those stories and experiences with practical advice and perspectives on helping children develop social skills. Names have been changed.