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Discipline sleeps on La Rambla

This morning Persephone smacked me on the chest as I was carrying her into her bedroom to get dressed. I don’t remember why. She is so tiny I don’t think she could hurt me even if she hit me with all her strength. So in some ways it was no big deal, but I decided to make it into a big deal. Not at first, actually. First, I asked her for an apology. I asked her repeatedly. But she refused. I told her she’d have a time out if she didn’t apologize. Still she wouldn’t say it. So then we proceeded to have the longest damn time out we’ve ever had. It was not easy for either of us. I told her that she’d have to sit there until she apologized, and for her part she fussed and cried but mostly just sat there in silence. It seemed to me that our conflict had become an absurd contest of wills, a mere power struggle divorced from any notions of right and wrong. I kept explaining and re-explaining that if you hit someone you should apologize. And despite my misgivings I’m pretty sure Persephone understood exactly what this was all about. At one point, when I’d reiterated for the thousandth time that she could end this absurd standoff by saying sorry, she whined, “But that’s not truuuue.” She knew what I wanted but she did not want to give in. She stuck to her guns. I admire that. And of course I was feeling the pressure to get ready for school and work, and she was not, but I stuck to my guns too. I was seriously considering the expediency of spanking, but I stuck to my guns. And finally I won. Er, um, wait, no, this wasn’t about winning and losing. I mean finally my daughter saw the error of her ways and embraced right behavior. “I’m sorry.” Was that so hard? Apparently so. It sure took a while to get there. I’m not sure how long it was. Twenty, twenty-five minutes, I guess. Afterward I was wondering if this was a sick and pointless exercise in dominance and submission. But a subsequent incident makes me think it may have been worthwhile. She took an old doll down to the breakfast table. She noticed it had a hole in its chest. I almost dropped the granola when I heard her say “I’m sorry” to the doll. “I’m sorry I made the hole in your chest.” So maybe she did learn something after all.

Discipline sleeps on La Rambla / Chris Beckett / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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  1. @Robyn: Great food for thought which I really appreciate. I certainly need all the help I can get. In this case it seemed that Persephone steadfastly refused to say something she didn’t mean, which is generally considered a virtue — not something I want to discourage. But in fact, I wonder if at this age she’s capable of insincerity? Perhaps not. She’ll surely learn that soon enough. But I don’t want her to learn it from me.

  2. Robyn Robyn

    I struggle with the apology thing. It’s definitely a skill and a pattern we have to teach. And based on what you heard her say to her doll, it sounds like she got it–which is great!

    On the other hand, why DO we force children to apologize when they don’t mean it? She hit you, which was wrong, but she told you pretty clearly she wasn’t sorry. In the end, she may have been sorry that it turned into such a big deal–and that may have been the REAL lesson (If I hit Daddy because I think it’s funny, I’m going to suffer for a long time until one of us gives in on this apology thing. So, maybe I won’t hit Daddy again.) But she probably didn’t really learn anything about feeling remorse or the fact that she *shouldn’t* hit people. Instead, part of what she learned was that if she says what you want to hear, it might end a standoff.

    I realize this is sounding preachy–and I don’t mean for it to. It’s just that we’ve been struggling with a similar issue with our 9 year old, so I’ve been thinking about it a lot and trying to balance my own instinct to “do what’s right” and, frankly, my strong drive to “win” with my perception that we tend to teach girls to over-apologize.

    In our culture, girls learn very early to apologize for things that they have no business being sorry for–having ideas or opinions, being strong, expressing themselves. I work with Girls Rock Camp here in Austin, and it’s a problem we fight all the time. Seriously, stand in a room of 10-15 year old girls for a few minutes and you’ll be stunned at how often they say “I’m sorry”–if they express a strong opinion, if they make a mistake, if they suddenly realize they’ve laughed too loudly, if they move their body awkwardly, etc. If you were to run into my 11 year old daughter in a hallway because you weren’t watching where you were going, I can almost guarantee she’d say “I’m sorry.” And for what? For existing? For just being there? It is really sort of heartbreaking.

    For that reason, I’m inclined to treat the apology lesson differently. When my girls (who are obviously older than Persephone) NEED to apologize, I tell them that I think they should and I tell them why I think they should. If they don’t want to apologize because it’s hard or because they are embarrassed, that doesn’t fly. I’ll support them, give them ideas, whatever, but I’ll push it. On the other hand, if they don’t want to apologize because they’re NOT sorry for what they’ve done, then I feel like I have to accept that, but then they have to accept the consequences.

    In other words, I try not to teach apology as a habit, or as a lie to get you out of a mess, but as a meaningful expression of remorse.

    You know?

    Sorry for the long rambling response. Like I said, I’ve been working through this myself and it is helpful to work through it in a different context.

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