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Teach Your Tween To Say 'I'm Sorry'

I’m a broken record lately with my middle-school-aged son, Jake. No matter what dramatic social dilemma he happens to recount after school, I hear myself respond, “If you had just apologized, you could have saved yourself some grief.”

His English teacher unduly scolds him for omitting the date on his assignment. A heated scuffle follows an accidental tripping of an uncoordinated bully in gym class. A kitchen death match ensues with his older brother who discovered his Aqua Man shirt was worn without permission.

It seems impossible for my son to utter three simple words: “I am sorry.” The very idea of this kind of submission causes Jake to break out in hives — not surprising, considering the invisible armor he piles on to stay safe within the halls of middle school. So how do we help our children appreciate the importance of apologies?

The Art of the Apology

In their book The Five Languages of Apology (Northfield Publishing, $18.97), Gary Chapman, PhD and Jennifer Thomas, PhD stress that apologies are important, because without them, our anger builds and pushes us to demand justice. They contend that genuine forgiveness “removes the barrier that was created by the offense and opens the door to restoring trust over time.”

The conscience, these psychologists say, is like a five-gallon container strapped to your back. Each time you wrong someone, a gallon of liquid is poured into the container. The weight of even a few gallons quickly grows uncomfortable. The great news is that the container can be emptied through apology.

Chapman and Thomas suggest five steps to offering a genuine apology:

  1. Give voice to your regret: “I am sorry.”
  2. Accept Responsibility: “I was wrong.”
  3. Make restitution: “What can I do to make it right?”
  4. Express repentance: “I’ll try not to do that again.”
  5. Request forgiveness: “Will you please forgive me?”

When I string together the first letter of each step, the acronym GAMER emerges. Now this is an approach my Xbox-crazed son embraces! Tacking this list to the kitchen wall will remind us all of the importance of a true “I’m sorry.” These simple words may be truly difficult to say, but they can heal a rift, lighten the load and make every day more joyful.

Michele Ranard is a freelance writer.

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