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Teach children to say ‘sorry’: why the word is only the first step

Lawyers have conniptions whenever they hear it, Parliamentarians routinely avoid using it, and all over the world, people have arguments about who should say it first. The latest grumblings about the humble…

A debate over whether children should be forced to say ‘sorry’ misses the point. Child image from www.shutterstock.com

Lawyers have conniptions whenever they hear it, Parliamentarians routinely avoid using it, and all over the world, people have arguments about who should say it first.

The latest grumblings about the humble “sorry” relates to children.

Earlier this week, the advocacy group Early Childhood Australia wondered aloud on their Facebook page whether children who do something naughty, such as hurt another child, should be required to say sorry, even though they may not understand what the word means.

The electronic reaction was swift and furious with combatants from both ends of the spectrum lining up their keyboards for attack. The spat attracted column inches in broadsheet newspapers around Australia, with almost everyone having an opinion on whether children should be made to say sorry for their misdeeds.

In one corner, there was a vocal group that included prominent child psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg, who believed that the word sorry had lost its meaning, and that children – the cheeky little rascals – will say sorry just to satisfy an adult’s expectations without them actually feeling any sorrow.

In the other corner, there was the traditionalists, who argued that apologising holds an intrinsic value, and that whether the child knew it or not, an enforced “sorry” helped teach them that their actions have consequences.

Fingers were sharpened as the back and forth between the two camps rose from simmering to seething, each unwilling to give ground to the other. The word “sorry” had again become the source of unusual tension.

Of all the storms in all the teacups, this quarrel has to be among the greatest.

To me, this debate is a perfect example of a more general problem afflicting the parenting community: over analysis by experts.

Parenting is a tough gig. Sleepless nights, followed by tiring days, followed by the same thing again. Do we really need to make a national issue out of what, for all intents and purposes, falls into the category of common sense?

But back to the issue of children saying sorry. Common sense tells me that both camps are right.

There are few duties more important in this world than being a parent. To nurture a baby from day dot and to see them through the highs and lows of their lives is very close to the essence of our existence.

Despite the headlines, the aim of child rearing is not to raise a doctor, a lawyer, a stockbroker, or even a UN peace-keeper. The aim of child rearing is to raise a kind, contributing and aware human being.

The teaching of right from wrong is an important stepping-stone to children achieving these goals. However, the very nature of the human condition means that all of us will make mistakes. For this reason, it is perhaps even more important that we teach children how to act when they don’t live up to the standards we set.

The word “sorry” is the most immediate way that one person can convey remorse to another for their actions. Teaching children to say sorry is not just a good idea, it is necessary to raising human beings who will thrive in society.

Necessary, that is, but not sufficient. Words have to be backed up with action. Just as an “I love you” is meaningless without genuine love, a “sorry” is meaningless without genuine remorse. Teaching children that “sorry” is only the first step in repairing their mistakes, and that this word needs to be followed by acts of remorse – the cleaning up of a spilt drink or the passing of a tissue to a hurt child - will go a long way to raising happy and caring kids.

More generally, perhaps it’s time that experts back off a bit on the need to provide parents with advice. The procession of “parenting shoulds” that get discussed ad nauseum in the newspapers and on the airwaves must be pure torture to an already anxious and sleep-deprived brain. Parents are always the expert of their own child, as nobody knows that little person better than them.

If parents and early childhood educators always keep in mind the long-game of child rearing – raising a kind, contributing and aware human being – then they will always know better than anyone else.

Read Andrew Whitehouse’s column: From placenta to play centre here.

Join the conversation

81 Comments sorted by

  1. terry lockwood

    maths/media/music/drama teacher

    Teaching children to say sorry? Maybe we start with ourselves. That ex-prime minister ain't Robinson Crusoe.
    It took me well into adulthood to realise that saying 'Sorry' then starting qualify my 'sorry' with the 'but' was not what you do.

    Too often we think of saying 'Sorry' is a bargaining chip when seeking forgiveness. Part of a deal. I reckon we need to teach kids (and ourselves perhaps) to say sorry and then if forgiveness is granted, then good. If not, just get on with it.
    But adults need to get it right first.

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    1. Mary Alderson

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to terry lockwood

      Agreed, Terry - "adults need to get it right first" and teach by example. The words of Andrew Whitehouse: "Teaching children that “sorry” is only the first step in repairing their mistakes, and that this word needs to be followed by acts of remorse..." is only the first step in the teaching process. There are many times in the course of a week during which a parent might do something that requires an apology and an act of remorse - accidentally bumping a child or spouse, stepping on a pet's tail…

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    2. June Fitzsimmonds

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Mary Alderson

      Mary I agree with you whole heartedly. The manners of each generation comes from the one before. I sometimes wonder though whether praise for doing the right thing can also give children a sense of self worth.

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    3. Mary Alderson

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to June Fitzsimmonds

      From personal experience with my children and others, I know that excessive and/or inappropriate praise can undermine a child's sense of self-worth in that they can become praise junkies, sometimes tearing themselves down in order to hear their parents build them up again.

      "Clever girl!", "Good boy!" are examples of inappropriate praise in that they refer to the child instead of the child's achievement. This is because not hearing the praise is often interpreted by the child as meaning they aren't clever, or good which is damaging to self worth.

      Appropriate praise is, "Wow! I'm pleased you've learned to... I bet you're pretty happy about ... or simply "That's right" calmly said when children have done something well. The last is very effective when children are learning to read as it does not imply that making a mistake is a sign of failure. It is simply the inconvenience of not being right and, therefore, having to rethink.

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    4. Cate Mack

      Retired teacher/now carer/traveller/thinker

      In reply to terry lockwood

      Too true Terry.
      A little humility from otherwise intractable adults sets an example that is likely to lead to more harmonious exchanges in us all - adult and child. Arguing the toss seems so unnecessary and a waste of precious time.

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  2. Paul Prociv

    ex medical academic; botanical engineer at University of Queensland

    Thank you for a very lucid and commonsensical take on an important matter. While it takes children many more years to develop empathy, at least getting the appropriate semantics in order early on helps them develop in the right direction.

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  3. Evelyn Haskins

    retired

    Forcing children to 'apologise' can really back-fire. I've known kids who glibly apologise then immediately go back to whatever it was that they were reprimanded for.

    Adults whose apologies amount to "I'm sorry that you are upset!" :-(

    Or the opposite effect -- adults who simply WON'T apologise as they feel that by doing so they are admitting guilt or liability.

    The only way for children to learn is not to 'teach' them but show them. How many parents sincerely apologise to each other of their kids?

    The other thing to remember is to NOT just say "Sorry" but actually repeat what you are sorry for. "I'm sorry I forgot your birthday," I'm sorry that I forgot to put out the wheelie bin," I'm sorry that I trod on your tail," (don't forget that dogs and cats also appreciate an apology!), "I'm sorry that I'm late."

    The reasons or the promises to do better next time should come later.

    The other thing to remember is to accept a genuine apology gracefully :-)

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    1. Mary Alderson

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Evelyn Haskins

      Two very good points, Evelyn. Explaining what one is sorry for and to accept a genuine apology gracefully.

      Sheldon Cooper in The Big Bang Theory is a prime example of the "I'm sorry that you are upset" school of apology.

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    2. Bradley Stringer

      Lawyer

      In reply to Evelyn Haskins

      spot on i think... i've only really recently stumbled upon this idea that the example being set is the most powerful message to the developing mind... it's amazing how many hang-ups i can relate to my own upbringing (and how expensive it is to undo them!)

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  4. Rene Oldenburger

    Haven't got one

    Will parents be required to say sorry after smacking a child? And make children say sorry, what if they wont?

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    1. Rene Oldenburger

      Haven't got one

      In reply to Sebastian Poeckes

      Why would that be, smacking is outlawed in numerous countries

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  5. Mike Swinbourne

    logged in via Facebook

    Andrew, your conclusion may seem obvious given your underlying assumption that the objective of parenting is to raise a kind, contributing and aware human being - but if the assumption is flawed then your conclusion becomes less obvious.

    So if parents think that the objective of child rearing is something else entirely - and I suggest many do - then there may be no need to learn to say sorry at all. Except that if you can learn to fake sincerity in doing so, you can 'game' the other person.

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  6. Peter Hindrup

    consultant

    ‘Early Childhood Australia wondered aloud on their Facebook page whether children who do something naughty, such as hurt another child, should be required to say sorry,’

    Hurt another child,? Hurt them back, then have them apologise.

    Doesn’t matter whether they are saying ‘sorry because I got hurt too, or sorry because I hurt you’ in both cases the apology is sincere!

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    1. Rene Oldenburger

      Haven't got one

      In reply to Peter Hindrup

      Saw one of those bullying cases at school which was filmed by another kid on tv

      Boy A was bullied and beaten and had enough, so he "hurt" his bully. Apparently boy A is now required to apologise.

      And what was the schools explanation of teachers who witnessed boy A being bullied all the time.

      They stayed inside because the feel "threatened", this was a primary school

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    2. Peter Hindrup

      consultant

      In reply to Rene Oldenburger

      Rene: Long years ago, much younger brother, small for his age but solid, was approached by an older, bigger boy in a park. the bigger kid asked: want to fight?

      Eyes alight, Geoffrey dropped forward, hands on thighs: 'Yes!'

      within minutes bigger kid was getting hammered. My father rushed toward them, but the Kids father dropped a hand on his shoulder and said 'let them go, my son is always picking on smaller kids!'

      Provided it is not too one sided, and nobody is getting hurt -- a few bruises is not hurt --- let them go. It takes pushing to get some kids to learn to fight back, but once learned is never forgotten.

      As for feeling threatened by primary school kids, how is an adult threatened by a kid?

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    3. Rosemary O'Grady

      Lawyer

      In reply to Peter Hindrup

      Hurt them back? that's progress.
      The child committing the hurt need ostracism (Naughty Corner/Chair/ stool?) for a Time (commensurate with seriousness. As the Ancients well knew - nothing pulls an offender into line so effectively as exclusion from the group/clan/herd....
      Hurt them back? an eye for an eye - makes the whole world blind.

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    4. Rene Oldenburger

      Haven't got one

      In reply to Peter Hindrup

      Peter, sort of had the same experience as your brother. Was only a little upstart of 158 cm at primary school and hoped somehow, the bully wouldn't notice me.

      Didn't happen and one day it was my turn and actually surprised myself, I gave the bully a lesson.

      Now "adults" would want me to apologise for that and say sorry. My question now would be, why are you adults allowing this bullying to continue and hide behind excuses

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    5. Evelyn Haskins

      retired

      In reply to Peter Hindrup

      " Hurt another child,? Hurt them back, then have them apologise."

      Or go home and get Daddy's gun, bring it to school and kill all the kids who bullied you or who simply ignored you.

      Bullying has far reaching consequences and has little if anything to do with the social niceties. Asking a bully to 'apologise' would be silly. Bullying is done intentionally to hurt. Bullies need counselling.

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    6. Peter Hindrup

      consultant

      In reply to Rosemary O'Grady

      Rosemary, doesn’t work with everyone.

      Our family is spread over 23 years. A younger brother, Michael, started school in a tiny, one roomed country school , 20 kids or thereabouts. New teacher, the ‘Play way’ system was in vogue — leave kids, they will get curious and come and join in, seemed to be the basis.

      Michael ignores the bell and sits in the sandpit, not playing, but utterly concentrating, still.
      Six weeks and the teacher gives up, goes out. ‘Hello Michael, what are you doing?’
      Michael points; ‘Ants’.

      He was quite small when he watched Dad skin and gut an in-lamb ewe. He wandered off. Next day: ‘that is where lambs come from, isn’t it?’ Dad, ‘Yes’. Michael wanders off without comment.

      Dumb? No chance. Bored out of his skull, I would think so.

      Hurt them back --- I am not suggesting 'damage'.little Kid hits another with a stick, said kid gets 'hit' with same stick, it doesn't have to be a whack, kid understands that it is not fun.

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    7. Evelyn Haskins

      retired

      In reply to Peter Hindrup

      >Hurt them back --- I am not suggesting 'damage'.little Kid hits another with a stick, said kid gets 'hit' with same stick, it doesn't have to be a whack, kid understands that it is not fun.>

      No, no, no!

      Bad parenting!

      Separate the kids. Do NOT take sides -- it is hard for us parent to know exactly what the lead-up to the fight was.

      If necessary give both kids a task to do -- different tasks away from each other.

      Escalating a fight only leads to kids learning to fight and MEAN it!

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    8. Evelyn Haskins

      retired

      In reply to Rosemary O'Grady

      > The child committing the hurt need ostracism (Naughty Corner/Chair/ stool?) for a Time (commensurate with seriousness. As the Ancients well knew - nothing pulls an offender into line so effectively as exclusion from the group/clan/herd....>

      Terrible advice!

      Aa teacher I have seen the consequences of this treatment.

      We do NOT know the reason for the 'initial' hurt. Often it starts as social exclusion :-( because the child IS socially awkward. Ostracism compounds the problem making the offender even more of an outsider, antisocial and angry. (Often it starts as social exclusion anyway! :-(

      If you are lucky you might just get the person to commit suicide. Otherwise their antisocial tendencies will increase until severe injury is caused. Think the mass shootings in US schools. (The we pop them in gaol to increase their anger against society before we let them out again :-(

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    9. Peter Hindrup

      consultant

      In reply to Evelyn Haskins

      Guess this is where we differ, I want kids to know how to fight --- yes, little girls too!
      It important that they learn that being beaten is not the issue --- being able to recall getting in one good smack on the nose is uplifting.
      In my experience, kids who can fight usually do not, or when they do, it is in defence of someone being bullied.
      I have never met a bully who could fight. Never met one who WANTED to fight, actually, when confronted!

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    10. Evelyn Haskins

      retired

      In reply to Peter Hindrup

      Ah well.
      The President Kennedy solution?

      I have taught kids who grew up with this philosophy :-( They don't find life easy and neither do those around them.

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    11. Mary Alderson

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Peter Hindrup

      Fighting can be done with words, not fists and is usually more effective when the right words are used. As a child with a Russian surname in the 50s, I was taunted by a boy in my class in a country school about being a Communist. I kept on denying it until the day I'd had enough and said, "All right, I AM a Communist! Not only that but we've got a two way radio at home and if you don't leave me alone, I'll tell them on you." The boy shut up straight away. After a few minutes of silence he asked tentatively, "You aren't really a Communist, are you?" I said, "No, so stop calling me one." And he did. He still made my life miserable in other ways, just as I did the same to others and so on throughout the class.

      Your belief in the efficacy of physical fighting is due in large part to your belief in the "macho male" image, even for girls? Or is it part of the Jewish concept of an eye for an eye?

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    12. Peter Hindrup

      consultant

      In reply to Mary Alderson

      ‘Your belief in the efficacy of physical fighting is due in large part to your belief in the "macho male" image, even for girls? Or is it part of the Jewish concept of an eye for an eye?’

      Neither. I went to a tough school. Three to four hundred kids in the ‘primmers’. (After which we went across the road to the ‘big school’)

      I was small, fair, quiet, polite, always with a book, and there was a pecking order, all the way down to the bottom and then, if you couldn’t beat up anybody else…

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    13. Mary Alderson

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Peter Hindrup

      I began my schooling in a one teacher school in SW Aus. The older kids decide it would be fun if everyone fought each other physically. I was dreading the day my turn to fight a girl in my class of 3 would arrive. I wasn't a good fighter. I had my hair pulled out and my mother was horrified. After a weeks or so, I was able to convince my antagonist to come to my house for lunch, it only being 100 metres away from the school. My mother gave her the rounds of the table. Months later, after that girl had moved to a larger country town, she sent me a thimble in the post. It was a perfect fit, an apology for the fight and for calling me a liar when I said my mother and I hadn't been able to find a thimble to fit.

      As an adult, I saw that same girl years later. She was a "checkout chick" and embarrassed at being recognised, but I bore her no ill will. That thimble in the matchbox sent to me was all I needed to forgive and forget her bullying.

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    14. Rosemary O'Grady

      Lawyer

      In reply to Evelyn Haskins

      We do not know the reason for the initial 'hurt'... but what if we do know? - and you treat the children the same way, by 'separating' them (they're already separated if they're sensible- at least one has gone away) then teacher/parent enters and treats them equally- as if neither is responsible - then at least one child, probably two - has/have just learnt a lesson about (in)justice. This is the kind of thinking that creates a society of perpetrators of all classes whose chief impulse is: 'Who's going to stop me?'
      With respect, of course.

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    15. Rosemary O'Grady

      Lawyer

      In reply to Mary Alderson

      Nicely done, Mary -and with a bit of assertiveness-training and less of the "New Australian' mentality in the schools - you could have done it sooner!

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    16. Evelyn Haskins

      retired

      In reply to Rosemary O'Grady

      Um.

      I was thinking about 'parenting'.

      Somehow or other I never found that my children separated themselves.

      But 'taking sides' regardles of who 'statreted it' real exacerbates the problems with Little Miss Tittle-tat coming and telling Mum that her Big Sister hit her. So what do you do? Make Big Sister apologise while Little Miss Tittle-tat makes faces at her behind Mum's back

      So Little Miss Tittle-tat has learned that by needling Big Sister enoght to make Bif sister hit her, Mum will…

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    17. Evelyn Haskins

      retired

      In reply to Rosemary O'Grady

      >
      Rosemary O'Grady
      . In reply to Evelyn Haskins
      ...but don't they sometimes find it 'delightful'? It wasn't meant to be easy... >

      Who might sometimes find what delighful?

      I'm sorry you have lost me completely.

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    18. Evelyn Haskins

      retired

      In reply to Peter Hindrup

      > I went to a tough school. Three to four hundred kids in the ‘primmers’. >

      Which is an example of how obtuse teachers and parents can escalate problms rather than defuse them.

      If you teachers had separated you and the bully, told you both that they never wanted to see such behaviour again and more closely supervised both of you there shoud have been a better outcome.

      If your mother had trusted you instead of deciding that your sister was 'blameless" it would have been a better outcome for the two of you too. Sister might have stopped tittle-tatting if she didn't get the rise of seeing your Mum punishing you as a result of her fictions.

      What you should have learned from this is an understanding that the "obvious" aggressor is so often the true victim.
      And decided to not visit the sins of the parents upon the children.

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    19. Peter Hindrup

      consultant

      In reply to Evelyn Haskins

      The bully?
      Assuming that there was a roughly 50/50 gender split, there were something close to 150 charming little boys in the pecking order!

      Tough as it may seem to you, once sorted out there was relative peace. Dominance/pecking order does not generally need to be
      constantly enforced.

      It is only when you involve somebody like me who merely needed shaking out of his 'passivity' and begins to hunt each of those who had given me a hard time, who keeps coping a hiding and coming back, learning…

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  7. Bradley Stringer

    Lawyer

    My own experience (admittedly with a very small sample group) suggests that a good result (i.e. provoking empathy) can be acheived by having the offending child check-in with the child they have wronged.

    An important part of this is giving the other child the vocabulary to express her feelings and the imapct of hrte negative behaviour in a clear and confident manner, without shame or remorse.

    In my view it is the second part of process, teaching children to speak up about conduct they find offensive, which will turn out the more important life lesson.

    Bullies only get away with it when people allow that to happen!

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    1. Rosemary O'Grady

      Lawyer

      In reply to Bradley Stringer

      It is persecution of the wronged child to force it to accept having anything to do with the one who has 'hurt' it/her/him. This is theory absent context in reality. A wronged child ought to be able to tell the persecutor/perpetrator to pull her/his head in and never come near me again. Who are these adults who want to pour oil according to their own ideas of order? I smell authoritarianism.

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    2. Bradley Stringer

      Lawyer

      In reply to Rosemary O'Grady

      not really... I was simply implying your sense of smell is off!

      in fact my comment was aggressive and offensive and i apologise.

      the point i was making is that i am attempting to raise my own kids to have empathy on the one hand and, more importantly in my view, the voice you refer to in telling an offender to pull his/her head in (as you decribe it).

      the wronged child does not have to engage with the offender at all if he chooses (in my house it usually but not always ends with a cuddle - little darlings they are) but that does not mean that the offending child should not bear witness to the impact of his conduct.

      you may well call that an authoritarian but i just call it parenting

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    3. Bradley Stringer

      Lawyer

      In reply to Evelyn Haskins

      Are you able to explain that response a bit further Evelyn?

      i must say that the suggestion that my house is run in an authoratarian (by Rosemary) or 'lawerly' way (whatever that means but i make up a pejorative connotation) is pretty funny (if not offensive) to me...

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    4. Evelyn Haskins

      retired

      In reply to Bradley Stringer

      I don't see why you think my comment was offensive.

      All I meant (and i thought it was clear) that it was the sort of solution that I thought a practicing lawyer would make.

      Where on earth did you get the idea that I was implying 'authoritarian' in any way?

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    5. Bradley Stringer

      Lawyer

      In reply to Evelyn Haskins

      the authoritarian bit came from an earlier comment not you Evelyn, hence the addition of '(by rosemary)'.

      your suggestion that i 'add insult to injury' when dealing with my kids seemed a little harsh to me. perhaps i was reading a tone into your comment that didn't exist. i can be defensive at times. it's a self-esteem thing.

      anyways, i suspect we actually agree about a lot of this stuff but any chance of that may have been lost in translation.

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    6. Rosemary O'Grady

      Lawyer

      In reply to Bradley Stringer

      a few weeks ago a very nice policewoman attended the units where I now reside and suggested to a neighbour of mine that he 'pull his head in'. It was a sophisticated solution to a problem. The man had assaulted me on a staircase - no witnesses - some 6+ months ago. He had been visited by police and dealt with in that way because clearly the matter could not go to court yet clearly the conduct could not continue. It worked - on the whole. And- I prefer he keep his distance. I do not wish for any sugary empathy with one who deliberately injured me.
      Perhaps parents believe that interventions in childhood will work, create a better world, and I hope so. But wounded persons deserve more empathy than wounders - and that is only just.

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    7. Rosemary O'Grady

      Lawyer

      In reply to Evelyn Haskins

      I trust you mean the Singer solution, not the O'Grady comment?
      If I may be indulged ... the reason we have Law is that it needs Law to hold the Line in society - that's why it's Law. There is plenty wrong with Lawyers and related occupations (politicians? etc) but do we want to live in a world absent Law? I do not - which is why I set myself to study it. It's been worth the while.

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    8. Bradley Stringer

      Lawyer

      In reply to Rosemary O'Grady

      i think you hit the nail on my head (or at least the head of my idea) Rosemary. i want for my children to grow up and not assault people in staircases. i want them to have empathy so as to prevent them causing injury in the first place. i want a better world and I really believe that it can happen... this idea is why i was so upset at myself for my foolish and wounded (now censored) response to your original comment above - it really showed me that im trying to teach lessons i myself have not yet learned.

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    9. Rosemary O'Grady

      Lawyer

      In reply to Bradley Stringer

      I made no comment about the manner in which your house ('my house')[sic] - is 'run' - I remarked upon your style of argument. I know nothing about your house as you know nothing about my 'sense of smell' - but I do, now, know about the way you choose to use words, Mr Stringer.

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    10. Bradley Stringer

      Lawyer

      In reply to Rosemary O'Grady

      yep. i was very naughty. im sure i don't need to pour oil or sugary empathy on my earlier apology though! i hope you have a lovely christmas Rosemary.

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  8. Tom Fisher

    Editor and Proofreader

    You must be right sore about this, Andrew, to come out again when you'd already written your last piece before Christmas.

    For my part, the matter emerges as yet another confusion in contemporary Anglophone society arising on the hand from the diverse roots of the language, and from the suppression of our personal and emotional life on the other.

    The word "sorry" derives from the Old English 'sarig' = "distressed, pained, grieved, full of sorrow". The Americans still use the word "sore" here…

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    1. Peter Hindrup

      consultant

      In reply to Tom Fisher

      Tom: thank you for that piece. Taught me something, and clearly saying 'I'm sorry', and 'I apologise' have quite different meanings.

      I will remember in future!

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    2. Rosemary O'Grady

      Lawyer

      In reply to Tom Fisher

      I wish I could copy /download this comment - it makes SO much Sense. Bless you Mr Fisher - and a Merry Christmas to All...

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  9. Rosemary O'Grady

    Lawyer

    I thought the first word was thank-you - 2 words - and alongside: please.
    Sorry might not, then, be required.
    But it's a faint hope. Try talking with bureaucrats, managers, 'professionals' (this includes the call-center (sic) operator) - and children of any age who might get hurt feelings if expected to consider the feelings of Another ahead of those of their wonderful selves.

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  10. Tom Fisher

    Editor and Proofreader

    I am going to log off this thread because some of the commentary I am starting to find disturbing.

    A child is not an object, an it, but a person.

    Not only might we more thoughtfully re-imagine the rascal, we might stop a moment and think far more seriously about what is a child; what is a boy (ME 'boie' = churl,servant, commoner, knave, boy; also L. 'boi' = shackle, denoting slave - until recently it was boys being caned and beaten for petty misdemeanors, not girls) and what is a girl (Germ…

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  11. Justin Coulson

    logged in via Facebook

    Self determination theory suggests that an extrinsic motivator will rarely, if ever, promote internalisation of a principle. Saying sorry when forced is pointless.

    Here's something I wrote previously on the issue:

    When we force our children to apologise their statements of ‘regret’ neither address the wrong on any meaningful level, nor do they express any genuine desire to obtain forgiveness for an unkind word or act. To the contrary, forced apologies seem to be more likely to promote resentment…

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    1. Bradley Stringer

      Lawyer

      In reply to Justin Coulson

      i agree with you justin... but geez it's hard when you're running late for work/school/doctor and your toddler is trying to wrench the hair from your pre-schooler's head!

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    2. Justin Coulson

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Bradley Stringer

      Thank you kindly Bradley.

      And you're right... some times are easier than others to help promote contrition. :)

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    3. Evelyn Haskins

      retired

      In reply to Bradley Stringer

      That simply needs management. No apologies from anyone, except maybe from Dad, who says "Sorry Toddler, but you are not allowed to do that!" as he unlatches todder and removes him from temptation.

      (On the other hand what is the difference between a toddler and a pre-schooler?)

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    4. Bradley Stringer

      Lawyer

      In reply to Evelyn Haskins

      i disagree Evelyn but as Justin reminds us, there's a time and a place for these important lessons and rushing out the door ain't it!

      (about 3 years)

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    5. Evelyn Haskins

      retired

      In reply to Bradley Stringer

      Who said 'rushing out the door?

      And I do not agree that there is a "time and place" -- leanring to adapt non-confrontationally to your social millieu is an continuous process from the moment you were born-- if not earlier.

      And children learn best by observation and example.

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    6. Bradley Stringer

      Lawyer

      In reply to Evelyn Haskins

      yeah i get all the theory Evelyn (well i suppose i don't really) ...

      what i am trying to say in global terms is that it is mighty hard to apply that stuff on a day-to-day, moment-to-moment basis in the real world... particularly those times when the social millieu looks more like herding a bunch of feral cats!

      i guess the art of good parenting is about practicing progress rather than perfection.

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    7. Mary Alderson

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Bradley Stringer

      You're right, you don't get all the theory which in some ways is a blessing because some of the theory is way out there.

      In the instance of rushing out the door, Evelyn's advice 'No apologies from anyone, except maybe from Dad, who says "Sorry Toddler, but you are not allowed to do that!" as he unlatches toddler and removes him from temptation' is perfect.

      The art of good parenting is patience and seeing the child's point of view by looking at the situation through the child's eyes. For a busy lawyer, that may indeed be impossible at times, but when it isn't, take the time to see the situation as your child sees it, but respond in the way a mature and patient adult would. I think that Peter has a long way to go along that path until he stops seeing that physical hurt in return for physical hurt is a sensible solution to bullying.

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    8. Bradley Stringer

      Lawyer

      In reply to Mary Alderson

      Thank you for that insight Mary... i was thinking on it while watching my kids play together last night... it seems really obvious but a simple display of empathy (i.e. looking through the child's eyes) let me see the unfolding scenario in such a different light. that's a wonderful gift.

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    9. Mary Alderson

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Bradley Stringer

      You're welcome, Bradley. Merry Christmas! It was an epiphany for me roughly 34 years ago and it helped me learn, through my son, how children actually LEARN to read when allowed to do so. It was a magical time, his years 2 - 4, and at the moment I'm reliving it through my next door neighbour's son who will be 3 next week. Children of that age love to make sense of the world and I love sharing that experience with them.

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  12. Tom Fisher

    Editor and Proofreader

    No I will say something more because it needs to be said.

    Our sons have only ever been the greatest blessing to us, God's gift to us.

    They are both 'little emperors', the most wonderful selves, nothing less. Of course they are.

    Their mother and I, we have that in common, devoted ourselves entirely to them; gave all of ourselves to them. How on earth else are they to learn to be loving, generous, hospitable, thoughtful and considerate?

    They're not perfect, especially growing up in Western Australia and as adolescents pulled this way and that, but that passes. We all still have to live in this world, in society.

    But not only are we best friends, in turn they will make fine fathers and loving husbands. Already they are both well-educated, hard working, highly respected, and in their careers considered outstanding young achievers.

    Before I attend to any advice from anyone at all on children, let's see first how yours are going.

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    1. Mary Alderson

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Tom Fisher

      What does growing up in WA have to do with their not being perfect? Not only I, but my husband and children grew up in WA and I don't regard any of us as having suffered in some way.

      Certainly the opportunity to be a frog of note in the bigger pond of Australia seems to be easier if one grows up in Vic or NSW, but WA has produced Nobel prize winners, Prime Ministers, Hollywood actors, world class cricketers, radio personalities and other people of note.

      The "tyranny of distance" once suffered…

      Read more
    2. Rosemary O'Grady

      Lawyer

      In reply to Mary Alderson

      ... I've just applauded Mr Fisher, above, but the 'little emperors' comment bothers me a bit. Perhaps it's true - we are not all perfect - fancy!
      As for growing up in WA - we all should be so fortunate - what a paradise!!!

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    3. Mary Alderson

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Rosemary O'Grady

      Thanks, Rosemary. And remember, if you ever wish to visit WA. there's a welcome mat and bed for you in my home. Seriously.

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  13. Tony Camilleri

    logged in via Facebook

    Wonderfully put. I recently got served by a "parenting educator" for my suggestion that there were two sides to this debate (and no real evidence either way) . Instead a lot of hot air from experts. I was told to "google" the evidence - as if there would be anyone in the world doing peer-reviewed longitudinal studies on the benefit of teaching kids sorry. Try getting that past a funding body.

    Based on my own research children spontaneously say "sorry" with siblings even at a pre-school age. The word is more about restoring a public identity and moving on from a single incident, than deep and profound empathy at that age but it still has its uses.

    Actually when does deep and profound empathy kick in generally? Seems a little rosy a picture of adulthood to me.

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  14. Evelyn Haskins

    retired

    I am wondeing where this conversation is going.

    Are we talking about teaching/helping children learn of the power of an aplogy given where no offense was meant.

    Are we talking of apologising for an over-sight, or simply being obtuse? Or simply being selfish and onconsiderate?

    Are we talking about school kids fighting and bickering. Or talking in class, or not doing theirr homework.

    Because IF we are talking of abuse, violence or bullying -- intentionally hurting another person -- it is a whole 'nuther question.

    The bully or aggressor needs councelling, possible 're-education', or psychiatric help or medications, all depending on the cause for the offence.

    This is not something which will be solved by apologising. It is a completely differnt question to ''should we force kids to say sorry".

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