When my eldest was two, I remember that she really disliked saying sorry. I remember because I found it fascinating that at such a young age, she instinctively recoiled from apologising. It seemed like a very adult reaction from someone too small to really understand the concept of right and wrong, actions and responsibilities.
I’m guessing lots of us find it hard to say sorry. For me, it depends on the humble-pie level of the situation. If I accidentally stand on a child’s foot or forget to put a water bottle in a school-bag, I am amazing at saying sorry. Because I genuinely mean it, because the crimes are relatively small, and because my actions were accidental.
On the other hand, if I have an argument with someone about where the pinging noise is coming from at 11pm on a Friday night, and I swear that my phone and laptop are both on silent, and then it turns out that my laptop is not on silent after all – I’m not brilliant at apologising. Even when said someone is threatening that he won’t get the wine from the kitchen after all. Those are high stakes. But still, sorry can be a hard word.
Five years on from the original observation, I’ve spotted a new trend. My kids are falling over themselves to say sorry. It’s no longer hard AT ALL. Particularly for my youngest. He trots it out a dozen times a day.
Sometimes he’s up front:
“Who put crayons in the dishwasher?”
“Who put tuna in the dinosaur’s mouth?”
“Who poured milk in the flower beds?”
“Who unrolled an entire roll of toilet roll and left it on the floor?”
“Who painted the barbecue?”
Sometimes there’s some initial denial:
Like yesterday, when for the second time, he pulled apart a pack of Post-its and stuck them all over the sitting room.
I asked him why he did it, when I had already told him not to.
“But me didn’t do it,” he says, yellow stickies still in hand. I should point out that he and I were the only ones in the house at the time too.
“You did do it, and now I’m sad,” I said.
“Did you see me do it?” he asked, not being provocative – just genuinely wanting to know the lie of the land, so to speak.
“Yes I did,” I said.
“Oh. Me is so, so sorry,” he said immediately, and hugged my legs. Sad face, downcast eyes. He has it down pat. Sometimes I stay tough, and continue lecturing. Other times he bursts into tears, and of course I end up hugging and comforting him.
I’ve considered trying the broken plate thing. I’ve often come across this experiment online – the one where you do the following with your kids to explain why apologies can’t fix things:
Go into your kitchen and get a plate out of your cupboard.
Now, throw that plate on the ground. Did it break? Yes? Good.
Now, tell that plate how sorry you are and how you will never do it again.
Did the plate go back together the way it was before you broke it?
Nope, the plate does not go back together. I’m sure this would be a good way to show my three-year-old that saying sorry doesn’t undo the misdemeanours.
Then again, I’m sure he’d spend the next month taking plates from the cupboard and throwing them on the ground. So maybe I’ll stick to the current regime of insincere but endearing apologies. And Post-its are easier to replace than plates.