We often hear adults tell children to say “sorry” when they’ve erred. “Sorry,” the child will say quickly, sometimes cheerfully, and run on. The injured child, broken tower, or torn paper has been left behind with the word “sorry.” The word “sorry” is often a meaningless phrase that gets you out of trouble.
We don’t make children say “sorry” here. Instead, we help children learn to take care of one another, listen to one another, and understand consequences.
In the event one child, Addison, harms another, Sven, whether intentional or not, the consequences are the same. An adult will intervene. Say something like, “Oh, no! Sven has been hurt! Let’s see what we can do to help him, Addison.” The adult will have seen who hurt who and will take both children aside.
The purpose is to remove both children from a situation that has gotten out of hand. This takes them out of the emotionally charged area to a quieter place. Now, there is time to help Sven feel better, and guide Addison to helping Sven. This may be holding a hand, helping with a band aid, or just watching while the adult helps the injured Sven. Before they go back, the adult will ask Sven if he feels better and if he needs a hug from Addison.
Most of the adult’s attention will be on the injured child, Sven. Addison is not “in trouble;” Addison is learning, she is helping make right her actions. Both children are learning how to take care of one another. Addison’s only consequences are that she may not play until Sven is all better. If she doesn’t feel like helping him, she still cannot play until he feels better. She can stay near while the adults helps him. She is still not in trouble; she is learning by watching.
If it seems helpful at all, the adult may ask what happened, once both are feeling better, and ask what might be a better plan for the future. Again, no one is in trouble. Both children are learning how to take care of one another; the adult is guiding the process.
Addison’s most recent memory is taking care of her friend. Addison sees herself as a helper and as a friend. Sven’s most recent memory is Addison helping him out. He see himself as worthy of care, valued, and as a friend.
Nearby children saw what happened and understand that they are important, too. Adults and friends will take care of them when they get upset and will help them through it.
We don’t make anyone say, “Sorry.”