“I’m Sorry”

Last week I read Teacher Tom’s blog post entitled ‘Hitting’.  It made me cry.

In his post, Teacher Tom outlined how they respond to hitting and other such behaviours in their cooperative preschool program.  He followed it up with a couple more posts that offer additional related information.

As always, his posts were very informative and easy to understand. His ability to articulate difficult situations always amazes me.  His focus is, as it should be, on the reason behind the behaviour — addressing the cause – teaching the children how to respond appropriately – and the importance of remaining calm.

So why did the post upset me?

It was the eighth step that he outlined in his ‘Learning Through Conflict’ plan that bothered me.  The formal apology – and again he so wonderfully explains why he doesn’t feel it is necessary.  I agree with him.

If there is one thing that drives me crazy it is the insistence that an incident isn’t over until someone says “I’m Sorry”.  His line about the initial conflict becoming “diverted into a conflict between parent and child as the former insists on the word “sorry” and the child refuses” brought back vivid images of an incident that happened very early in my childcare career.

At home time, a mom and I were standing at the front door engaged in a conversation.  Her three year old daughter was waiting patiently.  She was not interrupting us.  She was not jumping or climbing or playing with stuff in the cubbies.  She was simply waiting, one hand on the wall for support, one foot on the ground and the other foot swinging back and forth.  She was humming a song, swinging her leg, and waiting – wonderfully.

Then she kicked me.

It wasn’t done on purpose and I was not hurt.  The child immediately realized her mistake and froze. Two tiny hands clamped over her mouth and tears welling up in her eyes as she stared up at me. I put my hand on her shoulder and told her it was ok – I knew it was an accident and she hadn’t meant to do it.  There was really no actual conflict. It should have ended here, but it didn’t.

Her mother sprang into action.  Lecturing about how kicking hurts people and demanding that she apologize.  The child started to sob; shaking and crying and unable to speak.  Her exasperated mother apologized to me for her child’s behaviour, took her by the hand and hurried out the door.

But even then it was not over.  More than an hour later the phone rang and when I answered it the mother said “My daughter has something to say to you”.  She then handed the phone to the sobbing three-year-old who managed to sputter “I’m sorry I kicked you” before putting down the phone and wailing. 

So was it over now? Were the words “I’m Sorry” really necessary?  I don’t think so, at least not in this case. In fact, for me they made it worse.  Teacher Tom says he will not judge you if you insist that your child apologizes – but I might.

The real point I wanted to make though is the importance of letting those involved in the conflict work it out themselves. A conflict is resolved when those involved in it are ok with the outcome.  It doesn’t matter if the observer doesn’t think the outcome is correct or fair.

Certainly guidance from a bystander can be helpful sometimes – especially for those with little experience settling conflicts.  Suggestions can be useful if there is an impasse but if those involved are attempting to resolve the issue there is absolutely no need to intervene.

Here, if the children have an issue they are given the opportunity to work it out.  If necessary they can be separated from the group to prevent outside interference.  Assistance is available if required but after the dispute is resolved and there is peace again it is over.

Was their solution fair?  Was it correct?  That’s not for me to decide.  Did someone say “I’m Sorry”?  Maybe not but those words are not what is important.

What do you think?

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