Every parent wants their child to grow into a kind, caring, empathetic human being. And so, it comes as no surprise that we can be overly focused on seeking evidence of this developing trait in our youngsters. As part of this, we can often demand that they apologize and might even be overheard in more desperate moments insisting that our child “Say it like you MEAN it!”
All of this begs the question, do you make your child say sorry? And further, what does this have to do with raising our children to be compassionate human beings? It is in going back to the foundation of how brains grow, and in turn, how the soul of the child develops, that we find our answer to these questions.
Brains grow as a result of experience. Quite literally, as we model all sorts of emotions and traits in our interactions with our children their experience of these things soaks into their neurons and directs how the brain will lay down new neural track. As this is all happening, the child is forming a relationship with their sense of self and of the world around them. With this, they are writing an internal “script” for how we be with one another.
Thus, if a child experiences compassion at our hands, it goes to say that they will be much more likely to be compassionate themselves. If a child experiences understanding at our hands, they will be much more likely to be understanding themselves. And if a child experiences kindness at our hands, they will be much more likely to be kind themselves.
As all of this unfolds, the child is creating an understanding about themselves and their world. They come to understand themselves reflected in the glow of our eyes and through their own eyes as compassionate, understanding and kind. As the child comes into this sense of themselves, there is a wonderfully iterative impact in that they continue to receive and reflect compassion. And just like that – you have a child who is authentically compassionate.
Bringing this back to the question of whether or not you make your child say sorry the answer is probably a little bit in the middle. The reailty is we do have social norms and expectations around such things that on a very surface or scripted level may need some adherence. The key here is to not sell out your child’s development of their authenticity around this in the name of norm adhesion. So if it appears inauthentic or difficult for your child to offer an apology, you might just extend that on their behalf and move along, trusting that the authentic part of it will follow in good time.
What follows is a clip of me talking about a time when I extended to my son the experience of compassion in a difficult moment…and how, in the most beautifully authentic way, he circled back around in his own time with a magical, heartfelt apology.