He is howling, it’s what he does when something goes wrong.
Howling like his arms are broken.
It’s such a common sound these days that I don’t rush in to find out if there are broken bones involved. I am pretty sure there isn’t.
“Are you ok?” I hear her ask him.
“No!” is his reply in between howls.
“Would you like a super cuddle?”
And then suddenly the howling stops, and that worries me so I drop what I am doing and go in to see exactly what is going on.
I find the four year old boy with tear stained cheeks being hugged to death by his big sister. Both of them, intertwined on the ground, giggling.
“He’s ok now Mum” she tells me “it was just an accident and I super cuddled it better.”
And that’s almost enough to have me howling.
I don’t make my children say sorry when they upset or hurt someone or make a mistake. I don’t feel that a prompted “sorry” teaches my children anything positive and I don’t believe hearing that “sorry” makes much of a difference either. In this house, arguments and mistakes are usually more complicated than a simple sorry can address.
When someone requests that a child say they are sorry, often they encourage them to say something they don’t really understand or mean. Expecting a child to say sorry can be upsetting and confusing, especially if they don’t feel they did anything wrong. Often the hurt party is also expected to ‘get over it’ as soon as the sorry is offered when they may still have feelings and issues that they feel need to be resolved.
When you are ‘in the moment’, when everyone is upset and angry, that is the time to offer comfort to those who are upset (which is just as often the child who made the mistake, they deserve your love and comforting also) and to model compassion and empathy. It is not the time to lecture, judge or force a “sorry”.
So I don’t make my kids say sorry, but I do want them to learn empathy and compassion and to show they care for others and can honestly show they are sorry when they make a mistake.
These concepts are hard. They are hard for adults, difficult for older children, and just about impossible for preschoolers.
For preschoolers all I do is model compassion and empathy. I try to put into words what everyone might be feeling, sometimes that involves me saying sorry, sometimes it doesn’t. I show care and compassion through my words and actions but I don’t expect even my four year old to manage these things most of the time. But as my girls have grown older the idea of restitution has become more appropriate.
Restitution – making it right, showing you are sorry, showing you care. For me this is a way to show empathy, compassion and love.
Carrie at The Parenting Passageway writes beautifully on the subject of restitution with many practical examples of how it can work with children (search for ‘restitution’ on her site and you’ll find lots more great references). This is where I first came across the idea of restitution and it really felt right to me. I’ve read many of her posts on the subject and wondered how I could encourage it here a The Pickle Farm.
I’ll be honest… the idea of drawing a picture for someone you upset is a lovely, but I’m yet to find a way to slow down our crazy lives enough to allow for these kinds of moments. I know that I ‘set the tone for my home’ and so my children learn these things from me, but I forget, I am tired and lazy and…. and I need to do better, I will do better.
But there are other ways to show you care, to make restitution.
Recently we’ve been talking about looking after the people we care about. That if someone is hurt or upset, even if we didn’t cause it, even if we accidentally caused it, even if we made a mistake and caused it, even if we were angry and caused it…. because we care about them we ask them if they are ok. Sometimes we can ask right then, when they are upset. Sometimes we need to wait until we feel less angry or upset ourselves and then ask them if they are ok. It doesn’t matter… the important thing is we check that the people we care about are ok.
This simple concept seems to have turned on a light in my girls. Suddenly they seem to have found compassion and are able to build on that. Often they ask if you are ok and then offer something else to help ‘make it right’. A ‘super cuddle’ is a common offering, or a suggestion to come and play. It’s not earth shattering, big things, it’s just a little offering of love and compassion.
I am not sure why this seemed so out of reach before now. Perhaps it is because my girls are almost 8, and are moving well and truly out of the young child phase of self centeredness. Or perhaps it is because there is no judge, jury and executioner involved. I am not stepping in and declaring someone right or wrong. No one feels like they are being blamed, or shamed so they are now more able to offer love, not guilt, but love.
It has worked wonders for sibling relationships. Sure there are still fights (lots of fights), but the girls are much quicker to realise when a simple ‘are you ok’ will make things better. And even Morgan is managing to ask on occasion and, more importantly, is more able to accept the girls’ offerings of restitution. This means they able to work things out themselves more often.
It makes my heart sing to hear them ask each other if they are ok. I don’t care how many mistakes they make, how many times they hurt each other, as long as they take steps to reconnect and make it better afterwards.
Do you encourage your kids to make restitution?
If so what do you do to make it better?
How do you encourage empathy and compassion?