How I tried to be an A+ parent and just ended up feeling like a dumbass.
My frothy flat white arrives with a cute-as-a-button fluffy for Henry, who is happily playing with some toys and a friend he’s just met at the café. I decide his drink can wait. He’s having so much fun. I can see hands flying everywhere, big smiley faces, boys being boys. I take a sip of this much-needed coffee and watch in horror as Henry picks up a large wooden toy and cracks it across his new friend’s head. I’m out of my chair in a nanosecond, hurtling across the café to the scene of the crime, absolutely horrified.
The little boy’s mum has got their first and she is cuddling her wailing child who is really quite hurt. I grab Henry and hold him, explaining like a raving lunatic how naughty that was, how hurt the boy is, how he must say sorry immediately. This is my son’s cue to go absolutely batshit crazy. I’ve pulled out the trifecta for a kid who hates being held against his will, being told he did something wrong and, most of all, being forced to say sorry.
All hell has broken loose. We are causing a scene. I’m super embarrassed, flailing around, in a real tizz. The sensible part of my brain has followed Elvis right out of the building and I grab Henry, force him into his pushchair and do that thing that would be funny if you weren’t so damn mad – try to get a big double buggy out of the tiny space that is a café door. An amused man at a neighbouring table is enjoying both his bouncy baby and my silly dilemma and I could just about wipe that smug look right off his face as I hope that his future is full of scenes like this.
Roll up, roll up, for the circus is officially in town. Henry is taking me through the rigmarole of promising to apologise and then going completely mute once I’ve interrupted the other mum and her teary boy. He does this twice and then Annie starts crying to add to the mayhem and I snap and decide it’s time to leave, apologising profusely to my poor friend who was there to have a nice quite coffee with me while our kids played.
We walk home and I feel like I have steam coming out of my ears. We talk about what I could have done differently but all I can think is: “Why couldn’t he just have said sorry, then we could all have moved on and the outing would not have been ruined?” That night I do a Google search that changes my mind and makes me realise it was me causing that scene really, a 32-year-old who should have known better. I should have put myself in Henry’s shoes, reminded myself that he’s not even three yet and made myself think like a toddler thinks.
Almost every article that popped up on the Googly Goog put everything I did that day on the “don’t” list ie “Don’t force your child to apologise”. They went on to explain that forcing a child to apologise is insincere and does nothing to change their behaviour. You can’t force a child to feel sorry for something they did and even in older kids, forced apologies can become meaningless words which get in the way of a child’s ability to learn how to solve conflicts themselves.
It’s a difficult one, especially when there’s a hurt child involved, but I read some good advice about “walking the walk” and making sure you apologise when you are in the wrong, showing your children how to behave. Instead of lecturing your child about how to behave, ask them questions about what they could have done differently, or how they think they made the other child feel.
In this parenting journey, panicking has been my worst enemy. Every time I panic in a situation (normally because lack of sleep has shut down my “sensible” button that day) we end up in a worse place than before. I need to stop and think… like a three year old. Who ever could have guessed just how tough that would be!
Don’t force kids to say I’m sorry on Alysonschafer.com
Why forcing your kids to apologise is a bad idea on Slate.com
Should parents force children to apologise? on Parentdish.co.uk (A verrry close to the bone article, I am that silly first-time parent I guess)
5 Ways to teach your child to apologise on Askdrsears.com
How to teach kids to say sorry on Positiveparentingsolutions.com