An angry brother hits his sister. Siblings call each other names. Mom snaps at Dad over dinner. We often teach our kids to solve these conflicts with little more than the magical, amazing word, "Sorry." Before long, the kids begin to believe it can even make the consequences for their choices disappear (since it often does), so they use it...a lot!
We have taught our kids to stop using the word "Sorry." Well, sort of.
It is easy for the kids and the parents to use the word "sorry" to cover up a problem instead of actually dealing with it. "Sorry" is the magic eraser of conflict while the root problem causing the conflict is ignored. Let's be honest. Mom and Dad have been doing it for years and it's an easy word that gets us past the moment to "more important things at hand," like getting dinner on the table or getting to work on time.
But isn't the character of each member of our family more important? Childhood conflict between siblings and friends are training for the weightier conflicts of life.
Here is what we have been learning as parents:
Focus on YOUR Choices in a Conflict.
In a conflict, we ask both kids to assess what they actually did. Often one will initiate the conflict, so the other retaliates. The one who retaliated excuses their behavior with, "They started it!" In other words, they are saying their sibling did the wrong thing so it gives them a free pass to do it too. We challenge them to kill that kind of thinking quickly!
Instead, each person in the conflict must own up to their part and their wrong choice.
We are retraining our kids on their use and understanding of the word "sorry." We are teaching them it means, "What I did was wrong and I want to change." It does NOT mean, "I want to avoid consequences." The word "sorry" should be used the moment we realize our actions were in fact wrong, regardless of consequences. People who commit crimes have often shown true remorse for their actions, but they still may have to serve jail time. Remorse does not erase the consequences of a choice.
To Forgive Is to Make a Commitment.
Forgiveness is a misunderstood concept. It is not meant to simply be an emotional release for the victim. It is meant to restore relationships and that is impossible if one or both people are not truly remorseful or forgiving. Our kids are learning that forgiving someone means you will not hold it against them any longer AND it won't be brought up again. It's over. To forgive is to make a commitment to the person who wronged us. Forgiveness in very painful circumstances may take time and come in stages.
There will be situations in life when this type of forgiveness is not possible. Perhaps the person is unrepentant or no longer living or we have no access to them. That is a topic for another blog post. Scripture often switches approaches, depending on if those we need to forgive are believers or unbelievers. The major point of Scripture is that repentance and forgiveness are meant to work together to restore relationships. This is the gospel itself! When we see our sin for what it is, we repent and ask for forgiveness and Christ's work on the cross makes forgiveness possible. So our kids are learning to actually mean it when they say "sorry" and "I forgive you."