Whenever I talk about discipline in my children’s ministry workshops, I share that I don’t ever MAKE kids say sorry. Of course, I get few “are you crazy?” looks from parents and other children’s workers. The reason? Well, consider following scenarios:
- a boy bites a girl; he says “sorry”; she cries; he hits her again; he says “sorry”; he hits her again; he says “sorry”; etc.
- a girl hits mom; she says sorry; mom gets upset; the girl yells “but I said SORRY!!!”
What does the word “sorry” mean to the boy and the girl in the above scenario? What I hear is… “as long as I say sorry, I can do anything I want.” In both scenarios, the boy and girl are only 2 and 3 years old. From very young age, our kids are being conditioned to behave in certain ways (what some might consider the social norm).
It never fails. Every time I’m with a group of children, one child runs up to tell me how another child hurt his/her feelings or one of them will burst into tears. Conflict among children is normal. It’s part of growing up and learning how to manage conflict. Too often, I see adults stepping in, making the offender say “sorry,” making the other child accept the apology (even if it’s insincere), and life goes on as usual. It may seem the conflict has been managed on the outside… but what did we just teach these kids? We merely taught behavior… and didn’t get to heart matters. And we did not teach kids to manage conflict in healthy ways.
When I do have to step in… I ask each child why and how:
- Why did you do what you did?
- How did you feel when the other child did that?
We talk… then I proceed to ask “what would you like the other child to do now?” “What would you like to do?” “What do you think God thinks about this situation?”
To be honest, it’s not always pretty. Sometimes, all that needs to be said is “sorry,” and we can go on. Other times, we don’t come to a resolution. One child may say “I want him to say sorry.” But the other child might refuse to say “sorry.” But once again, I believe this is part of life… sometimes, apology doesn’t come so easy. Sometimes, conflict isn’t resolved in 5 minutes even if it’s just over legos.
I believe this is what spiritual formation looks like… when we hit heart matters rather than behavior. Conflict is a big part of a child’s life… and guiding them to resolve conflict in healthy, Christ-centered ways is helping them to grow spiritually. By the way, I also don’t resolve conflict for kids–that’s another blog in the works!
I couldn’t resist including this awesome apology letter from a child! I think this sums up exactly what I’m talking about!