Have you ever had someone say they’re sorry but it left you feeling frustrated and unvalidated? Or how about the apology that subtly blames YOU? It usually goes something like this, “Well…I’m sorry that YOU got your feelings hurt.”
When our kids give us a lame apology, it can make us especially angry because on some level we feel like we’ve failed at making them understand their wrong and take ownership of it.
The 6 A’s of Apology can fix it! Print these out, sit everyone down, go over them, and then post them somewhere central so they’re handy when someone needs to apologize.
The 6 A’s of Apology
A true apology is an expression of a person’s regret or remorse or sorrow for having wronged another. And the apology is a critical part of genuine conflict resolution and restoration.
We have a real life scenario that we’re going to use to give you an example of words to go with each of the A’s.
A while back, my son Seth was playing with Jody’s nephew in Jody’s daughter Sydney’s room. The boys were being wild and knocked some of Sydney’s stuffed animals off her bed and then stepped on them as they continued their rough play. Sydney’s things are very special to her, and this made her feel like they didn’t care about her.
To add insult to injury, Seth also opened her jewelry box and began riffling through it, which made Sydney feel really violated.
When I told Seth how all of this made her feel, he was shocked. He doesn’t think twice about throwing his stuffed animals around, especially in the midst of intense play, and he wouldn’t care if someone looked through the things on his dresser. So it never occurred to him that this might make someone else feel hurt.
Once he realized how Sydney felt, he was truly remorseful and wanted to fix it. He and I reviewed the 6 As of Apology, and we role played to help prepare him for their conversation.
#1 — Admit (Agree) You Were Wrong
The first step of a true apology is to verbally agree with the person (and God) that your actions were wrong and explain how they were wrong. Frankly, this is where most people blow it. The person on the receiving end of an apology NEEDS to know that the offender agrees with them about what went wrong.
“I touched your things without your permission and made a mess in your room, and it made you feel like I didn’t care about you. That was wrong.”
#2 — Apologize
The next step is a sincere statement of apology, which includes a complete statement of what the person is apologizing for.
“I am sorry that I disrespected your belongings and made you feel dishonored.”
#3 — Accept Responsibility
Often, an apology is weakened by a subtle shift of blame. Like this: “I’m sorry, but I wasn’t the only one doing it.” Excuses can also weaken the apology. “I know I shouldn’t have gone through your things, but I was looking for something.”
Sometimes a person will try to find something redeeming in their behavior in order to relieve some of the burden of responsibility. “I should not have been playing in your jewelry box, but I DID put everything back when I was done.”
As parents, we need to make sure we are not causing our children to stumble on this one. It’s tempting to think, “Well, it was wrong, but he’s boy, and boys will be boys. Besides, he was just following along with the other kids were doing.” Accepting full responsibility is a critical part of the apology, and it’s an important step in building restoration.
#4 — Ask For Forgiveness
It’s humbling to ask for forgiveness, but it’s an important part of the process, and it invites the other person into the conversation.
On a side note, we need to teach our kids how to respond to this. They should say, “I forgive you,” and NOT, “It’s okay,” because the truth is, it’s not okay. It’s not okay when a person is hurt or dishonored or disrespected.
“Will you please forgive me?”
#5 — Alter Your Behavior
An apology seems empty when the person makes the same mistake again and again. This is the repentance part of apology. Repentance means turning in the other direction. After a person apologizes, he should be thinking of steps to change his behavior in the future, and he should communicate those steps.
“Next time I’m playing rough, I’ll make sure we don’t go into your room. And I won’t touch any of your things without your permission.”
#6 — Action Step
Once an apology is done, we need to take an action step to demonstrate that we are genuine. Sometimes it’s as simple as giving the person a hug or smiling brightly. Other situations might require something more.
Sydney’s love languages are affection and gifts. After we role played his apology, he made her a card using her favorite color paper. On our way to meet her, we stopped at a store and Seth picked out a small gift for her. While we were at the register, he saw a cute little thing and asked if he could get it to tape to the outside of the gift.
This small token of apology was not only a blessing to Sydney, but it empowered Seth and was healing for him too.
Now it’s important to note that before taking an action step, we thought about Sydney’s love language. Without that information, this could go wrong. A person whose love language is not gifts can receive it as a bribe. A person whose love language is not words of affirmation can receive a card with loving words as vain flattery, but for a person whose love language IS words of affirmation, a beautiful card that tells how important and valued the person is could make all the difference.
Come back on Monday. We’re going to go through the Four Promises of Forgiveness.