Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Apologizing for Your Child?

Disclaimer: Right now, I only have a little (but growing) almost-10-month old. I do not have to juggle the different needs, different wants, different schedules, and different temperaments of multiple children. Thus, I know that this post may seem idealistic to some.  However, a marathon runner didn't successfully run his first marathon on day one. He likely started with an idea and a slower, shorter jog down the block. With work and a on-going focus on his original idea, he completed his marathon.  Likewise, if I do ultimately juggle the challenges of multiple children (or at least one older child), I will, hopefully, return to this post to keep me focused on my original ideals.  
Who me??

   A few days ago Q-ball and I attended a natural parenting group meeting. I like to attend these meetings to meet with other parents, and I like to give Q-ball the opprotunity to meet with other people- both big and little. During our time in public, I work to maintain the same parenting practices I use at home- namely, Q-ball is basically free to explore. It should be noted that when we go on many errands, grocery shopping for instance, Q-ball is secure in her Ergo, but if she reaches for an item or looks with interest, I take the time to stop and let her look or feel. So, she's not having a free-for-all on the grocery store.  However, in settings where we are going to be in one place for a while, I let go, and, largely leave her be.  
    So it is at the natural parenting meetings and other group events. As long as her explorations will not cause her harm or damage property, I just watch.  Within seconds of being put down at this particular meeting, she was pulling up on other grown-ups legs, pin-balling around the room, and finally settling and spinning circles in the middle of the chairs circled for the meeting.  A little while into the meeting, Q-ball crawls full-speed ahead to another younger baby, eager to play. After a few minutes of smiling at one another, Q-ball reaches to take the other baby's toy, and after a few seconds of tug-a-war, the inevitable happens.  The playmate falls. Hard. The sound of her little head hitting the tile echoed around the room.  And then, she was screaming. And screaming. Loudly.  Q-ball was happily playing with her new toy. In fact, she turned to me and smiled at her triumph. I imagine that most of the other attendees were also watching me at this point. So, I decided I should probably remove her from the situation, so the other Mommy could comfort her little one.  But, alas, the question: Should I apologize for Q-ball???
   Given that Q-ball is pre-verbal, she obviously cannot issue her own apology (although, given her reaction, I don't think she was looking for the words...). My husband and I have avoided apologizing for her, and, when she is verbal, we want to avoid forcing meaningless apologies.  Why?
  1. If the behavior is age-appropriate, we do not believe that there is a reason to apologize. If we are riding on a 5-hour long airplane, it is likely that a baby will be fussy at some point. A toddler will likely kick the back of chairs and run up the aisles. It might not be culturally accepted, but this is normal, age-appropriate behavior. Afterall, I'm not sorry that I have Q-ball. While it can be trying to be a parent (especially on a 5-hour plane ride), I'm a very blessed Mama.
  2. If the behavior is a reflection of her personality, we do not believe that there is a reason to apologize.  If someone new is desperately trying to say hello to Q-ball, but Q-ball just turns her head into my chest, I try not to respond, "I'm sorry- she's shy!"  Very soon, Q-ball will be able to understand my words, and I do not want them to (1) encourage to her self-fulfill whatever role I've assigned her and (2) misinterpret the label as a negative judgement. 
  3. If the child sees the apology as false, we are not encouraging actual empathy and remorse. Instead, we are simply seen as liars.  This is more important once Q-ball becomes verbal.  We ultimately do not want to force her to issue false or canned apologies.  We only want to her apologize if she means it, with the hope that she will develop a true ability to empathize and see the effects of her actions.  
    So, what did I do? I was literally in the middle of a circle of watching parents. First, I wanted to make sure that the hurt child was okay. Her mother was soothing her, so nothing was required of me.  To avoid further disruption of the meeting at this point, I took Q-ball out of the circle to play on her own (leaving the prized toy behind). No words to the mother at this point.  But, the baby was still screaming, and soon the mother carried her out.
    It's really tough to stand by your beliefs when they are not necessarily culturally accepted, not to mention embarrassing. And, frankly, I did feel bad. I realized that I was sorry that the baby was hurt.  So, after the meeting, I approached the other mother and said, "I'm so sorry that your daughter bumped her head. How is she doing now?" I was expressing how I actually felt and certainly not violating any of the behaviors I listed above.  I was comfortable with my ultimate reaction, and I hope that it will model actual empathy and sincere apologies for Q-ball in the future.  
    And, if you ever are my seatmate on a 5-hour plane ride, know that I'm sorry that you might not be able to get any rest, but I'm not sorry for Q-ball being Q-ball. 

Do you apologize for your child? How would you have handled this situation?


  1. I would hope that when your daughter does begin speaking that she would realize apologizing for hurting someone - or being the reason they were hurt - is the right thing to do. Yes, I would have apologized if my son took a toy from another baby and caused the baby to be hurt. I disagree with your methods/beliefs, but I respect them as your personal choices.

  2. I really appreciate your perspective on this. My general way of dealing with similar things is to narrate and model, rather than to do for Annabelle.

    We had a similar situation at the park last week, where A and her friend were both wanting to get on the same horse on a spring toy. They both attempted, as we moms watched, and they fussed a bit at one another. My response was to say, "Annabelle, it looks like you really want to get on the horse, but I see that P wants to get on, too." Before either child moved on, P successfully made it onto the horse and simultaneously fell off and bumped her head. P's mama took her and comforted her, and Annabelle went to head straight for the horse, excited that it was now free. I stepped in and called her attention to her friend and suggested we find out if she was okay. Annabelle obviously wanted to get on the toy, but I told her that I was really worried about her friend right now and walked over to ask if she was okay, and tell her that I was sorry she was hurt. Eventually, P calmed down and enjoyed the toy for a few before Annabelle had her chance. Of course this isn't the best possible response, and we weren't in the middle of a meeting, but it was what felt right at the time.

    When A has hurt or upset another child, my response has usually been to go to the hurt child first and apologize, not *for* Annabelle, but from myself. "I bet that really hurt. I'm so sorry! Do you need a hug/hand/band-aid?" Only after checking with the hurt child do I address Annabelle, and I am not into forcing apologies either. I hope that this models caring behavior, and has a positive effect on her. Time will tell, I suppose!

  3. Ah it is all a minefield isn't it? I am always uncertain as to how to act in "baby fights" as I call them (although I know they are not necessarily fights at all) and I too want an authentic response. But like Melissa said, the desired authentic response i.e. empathy for another person, is probably some way off. I agree we should model the correct response. I would say sorry, but would also look at it from a different angle. Not apologising for my daughter being a typical toddler, but both modelling appropriate behaviour and helping my daughter to noticing how others are feeling and how her actions have affected them. I think I go overboard sometimes though as I mind a little girl sometimes and when I point out that e.g. my daughter may want to be asked if she wants a cuddle before being wrestled to the ground, she looks a little bit upset sometimes. Poor little pet.

  4. I absolutely agree that apologizing for hurting someone is the right thing to do! My goal is to also teach my daughter that it is the right thing for her to do and for her to truly believe it.

  5. Great point- explaining how the other kiddo feels is essential!

  6. Yes- time will tell. Being a parent is tough! We just have to hope we are doing the right thing!


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