I have lots of smart friends, but I have one friend who is particularly smart in the area of parenting. She is the one who gave me the advice on how to deal with Brynn's difficult adjustment to life here. When it comes to parenting, she is naturally talented and, because she is a social worker, she is also well-trained.
Last year when we were having some problems with Brynn being overly-aggressive at school, my super-parent friend gave me the idea of requiring Brynn to apologize, in writing, to the people she had hurt with her aggressive behavior. But it wasn't just any old apology that would work. It had to follow this format:
I am sorry for _____________ because ______________. Next time instead I will _____________.
Ever since she shared this ingenious little apology format with me, we have been using it with the girls. Today it came in REALLY handy.
Despite dire warnings, previous consequences, and common sense, today my children were playing on the roof of our next door neighbor's house. You see, Callie wet her bed last night (which has been happening frequently of late, so anyone with advice on how to deal with an otherwise potty-trained almost-five-year-old-who-pees-at-night, let me know. She also sleeps through vomitting when she is sick.) When we discovered the wet bed this morning, we had to slide the mattress out of the palapa and onto the neighbor's roof where it would sit in the sun all day to dry. We usually leave it propped up against the half-wall of the palapa and, to a discerning child's eye, it resembles a slide.
So, what do you think my kids did while I was making dinner tonight? Of course, they hopped right on that mattress and slid down it onto the neighbor's roof. Over and over again. Apparently they did it enough times that they actually annoyed the neighbors inside their house. Eventually, I heard our neighbor's voice outside, "Girls, please get off the roof."
I have super double awesome hearing, as Callie would say, so that reprimand that most moms would have missed, I picked up. And I was mortified.
I contained my anger, walked calmly upstairs, and stalled with "I'm so disappointed, I'm so embarrassed, what were you THINKING?" and lots of silence accompanied by looks of disgust as I decided on the proper consequence.
Then it hit me. Duh! They need to apologize.
So out came the preschool-lined paper and the pencil sharpener and the big gummy eraser.
The girls wrote their apologies with terrible spelling and illegible handwriting. I corrected the spelling and the girls re-wrote the notes legibly for the neighbors to read.
Here is what Callie's said: I am sorry for going on your roof because it was dangerous. Next time I will not go on the roof. Will you forgive me? Callie
And Brynn's said: I am sorry for playing on your roof because I probably interrupted you. Next time instead I will play in our room. Do you forgive me? Brynn
What I love about this apology is that, over time, my girls have learned to focus not on how their actions affect themselves, but instead on how their actions affect the person they hurt or wronged. They used to say something like this: I am sorry for hitting you because now I am on time out. Now they say: I am sorry for hitting you because it must have really hurt you. Do you SEE the difference? Amazing.
This apology is great for so many reasons. The kids learn to be less self-centered -- self-centeredness is a natural part of child development until around age six when kids slowly begin to realize that the world revolves around more than just them, but I think this apology helps move that change along. The apology teaches kids to consider what the other person is feeling. It forces kids to acknowledge what they did wrong. And, perhaps best of all, it requires them to face the person they wronged which is difficult for all of us at any age, is it not?
Callie struggles with apologizing in person, especially when she has to apologize to someone who is not a member of our immediate family. Today Scott had to actually pick her up and carry her to the neighbor's house to deliver the apology note -- she would not, or could not, walk their on her own.
When Scott and the girls arrived with the apology notes in hand, Brynn had a great conversation with our neighbor and then was treated to a tour of our neighbor's house.
Unfortunately, the apology may have done more good for our kids than it did for our neighbors. You see, Bubbles the dog followed Scott and the girls over there, pushed her way through the gate for the house tour, and promptly pooped somewhere in the neighbor's yard. Scott smelled it immediately but never did find it. The neighbors said not to worry about it.
Sigh. I guess it's up to me to pen Bubbles' apology letter.