Why You Want Your Child to Stop Saying "I'm Sorry"
I've been there. If you're a parent, I'd bet my last bite of dessert you've been there too. You're chatting away happily with a friend when suddenly screams and end-of-the-world-type sobbing comes from down below. You look to assess the damage- one child in tears and YOUR child clutching the coveted toy in his arms with a look of utter victory. A pang of embarrassment hits you like a brick wall and immediately you demand of your child with your firmest voice, "Say you're sorry. RIGHT NOW." He faces you with a look of sheer defiance so you up the ante, "Say you're sorry right now or you're going straight to time out." Grudgingly, he throws down the toy and in his tightest and angriest voice shouts "I'm Sorry!" His tone and nonverbal communication prove otherwise, but, he did say it. The fight ends and you get back to chatting.
There are two main problems with this common scenario. First, there's no evidence that demanding an immediate apology without the slightest inkling of remorse is at all helpful in correcting future behavior. What is likely, though, is that the child is walking away with pent up resentment and, perhaps, even a desire for revenge. The child becomes an angry victim rather than an empowered individual who recognizes how his behavior created undesired feelings and consequences for himself and others.
The second problem, though, is the real game changer. It's a matter of life-altering consequence. The second problem is a little word in the English vocabulary that holds mountains of power: "Am". Have you ever stopped to think about the word "Am"? I hadn't; not before becoming a hypnotherapist. It's now a word I think of every day. This two letter word has such incredible power it continues to astonish me.
In the Spanish language, there are two words for "Am": "Soy" and "Estoy". "Soy" is used when referring to things that are permanent and unchanging. I am a woman. I am Caucasian. I am a mother. "Estoy" is used with things that are temporary and changeable, such as how you're feeling. One would never say, "Soy enojado" which translated means, "I am angry." Instead, they would say "Estoy enojado", representing the changeable nature of the condition. What a benefit it is when language itself helps to differentiate truth from error!
English doesn't afford us this natural differentiation between what we "are" permanently and what we "are" or "feel" temporarily. Think of the confusion this creates in a young mind. Instead of "I feel angry" (truth), it becomes "I am angry" (false conclusion- translated within the mind as "Anger is a part of me").
"I am" becomes truth. "I am" creates and reinforces beliefs within the subconscious mind. "I am" has power to create amazing self-confidence, self-love, and self-understanding. I constantly help clients create "I am" statements to reinforce positive life change and to embrace a deeper love for themselves. "I am" is powerful. It's now. It's personal. It's present tense and permanent.
"I am" also has the power to create self-loathing, a warped sense of self, and deep rooted negative subconscious beliefs. Ponder on the potential damage we risk knowing that a precious child's mind may accept an "I am" statement as permanent truth about himself. Think back to the word "Sorry". Sorry is defined as a feeling of shame, remorse, sadness, regret, guilt, or distress over an event, action, or behavior. Feeling these emotions when we have done something wrong is part of learning. The potential hazard comes as a result of our language, where we mistakenly accept these passing feelings as truths about our self.
In Spanish, "Soy siento" (I am sorry) would never be spoken. Instead, the language goes a step even better than using "Estoy". One would say, "Lo siento". This, literally translated, means "I feel it". Feeling something is different than being something. If we come to understand this for ourselves, and teach our children to differentiate the two, we will have a much healthier and happier society.
"I am sorry" has the likely potential to enter a child's mind as any combination of the following: "I am shame. I am bad. I am sad. I am regret. I am guilt. I am distress. I am someone who hurts others. I am not good enough. I am unworthy. I am unloved." And when an apology is unfelt and forced, this same child may take on a variety of other beliefs as well, "I am angry. I am a bad person. I am wronged. I am treated unfairly."
These examples may feel like a far stretch to you, but they are common. Constantly, during sessions with clients, I hear these deep rooted negative subconscious beliefs and they begin early in life, from the simplest experiences and statements. "Am." It's powerful.
Let's do better. Let's be clear with our words. Let's help our children understand and process feelings as a part of life, rather than teaching them to embrace these feelings as character flaws. Let's teach them how to reflect on their chosen behaviors and how their choices bring positive and negative consequences. Most importantly, let's teach them that their inherent, divine value never changes.
"I am a good person who made a mistake. I feel sad that stealing your toy made you cry. I apologize for my behavior and I'll do better." Can you feel the difference? Help your child to recognize and feel negative emotions, not become them.
Be careful with your words; they shape reality.