Saying sorry. Swearing and potty talk. Little lies and full blown deception.
These may seem like lighter topics than some of the others we’ve covered in Heather Shumaker’s book, It’s OK Not to Share and Other Renegade Rules for Raising Competent and Compassionate Kids (*affiliate), but in reality they’re often big, hot-button issues for many parents and teachers.
Many adults feel like this behavior is a personal affront. A show of disrespect. A nerve is hit and they get hot under the collar. The response is big and dramatic.
And therein lies the problem.
Because these behaviors thrive in an environment of big reactions. Whether the offense stems from developmental perspectives (what I say is true becomes true), imitating what they see in their environment (I’m mad. When Dad is mad he has a strong word he uses.), or from an effort to please or impress us (Mom will be happy if I didn’t do it, so I’ll say I didn’t do it.), they all have a powerful common thread.
I control my words.
We can’t “make” a child say sorry — and we certainly can’t “make” them mean it. We can’t force them to choose appropriate words or to always tell the truth. They choose their words. We can only guide and let them have appropriate power.
Preschoolers are at a crossroads where they don’t have power over a lot of things in their lives, but they are developmentally driven to develop more control. Consider the fact that it’s usually during these transformational years that children become potty trained, while also building countless other self-help skills that lead to a feeling of power and independence. They’re driven to want power and control because that’s what drives them to learn these skills.
It’s also what makes a calm, dull reaction from adults more effective when it comes to kids’ words.
That’s not to say we don’t teach, guide, and correct, but when our reaction is big and dramatic, we only feed into the power of those big words kids discover. When we simply respond with a “calm and dull” reaction, as Heather Shumaker suggests, we “deny (children) the fun of getting a reaction from you.”
Once a calm and dull response provides the buzzkill, we can empower appropriate behavior by teaching, guiding, and modeling. We can invent new power words, give them safe places to experiment with words, show how powerful they can feel when they help (rather than just saying “sorry”), and teach the power of trust and appreciation that comes from telling the truth.
After a calm response, the brain is more open to guidance than it is after a big, emotional exchange.
This section is full of various responses and scripts that are brilliant for dealing with the powerful (and sometimes shocking) ways preschoolers use their words. With an emphasis on guiding and teaching, rather than our natural reactions of exploding and forcing, these responses are great for teaching kids in the ways they were meant to learn.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this section! I’ll be sure to review your comments as I prepare to chat with the book’s author, Heather Shumaker. (She’s always fantastic!)
Here we are, joined by Emily Plank of Abundant Life Children. I LOVE her perspective here! Be sure to check out her blog!
( Past posts and videos can also be found on the kick-off page for this series.)
Other points in the section to consider:
*With all behaviors in this section, I appreciate that Heather reinforces that this developmental perspective is generally applied to the preschool years (appx 3-6). So while some of the responses may not seem appropriate for dealing with a 9 year old, that’s because they’re meant for the younger crowd.
*”Young kids are rarely sorry. Many haven’t even reached a stage of moral development to feel sorry yet. Don’t force apologies. Instead, help kids set things right by getting a tissue or an ice pack. Learning to say “Sorry” lets kids off the hook, but saying “I won’t knock your bike over again” (or helping with an ice pack, etc.) offers meaningful safety. Model manners, but don’t demand them prematurely.” (pg 299 – parenthetical addition mine)
* The power of modeling sincere apologies yourself rather than forcing insincere ones from them. (pg 302)
*”By allowing free speech — within limits — you can teach your child how to explore the power of speech and use it wisely.” (pg 307)
* “Cursing is an exploration into power……It’s natural that preschool-age children are fascinated by bodies and potty talk, since potty training has played a big part in their young lives.” (pg 308)
* “If you don’t want your child to swear, then don’t swear yourself.” (pg 310)
* Considering the categories of bad words: potty words, family-specific bad words, adult bombs, mean words, racist sexist slurs (pgs 310-315)
*”Don’t focus on her word choice…Focus on the feeling beneath the word.” (pg 311)
* Allowing potty talk in the bathroom or inventing new power words. (pgs 312-313)
* “Young kids lie to express wishes and try to control their world. Your reaction matters more than her lie.” (pg 316)
* The real reasons kids lie. (pg 317)
* “If you want to teach honesty, model honesty as well as being caring and kind.” (pg 318)
* “Children don’t develop full moral reasoning until ages seven to eight. However, just as with emotional intelligence, adults can help guide children as their moral intelligence develops.” (pg 319)
Add your thoughts in the comments section, or begin the read along at the beginning!
Psst– You might also enjoy these posts on a similar topic:
Putting a Stop to the Potty Talk
Time for the Truth: What Does it Really Mean When Kids Lie?
Simon Long says
Nice idea, but teaching children to say “Sorry” is not letting them off them off the hook!
It is wrong to force the feeling of guilt, yes, but an apology should never need to be forced, the child should be aware of their wrongs and empathetic to what they have done to another, at any age!
I would suggest teaching good manners, as well as meaningfully trying to put things right, should go hand in hand!
I agree they can go hand in hand. I think Heather’s point was that if we focus only on “Sorry” it becomes hollow. If we focus on action in the early years, modeling the “sorry” as well, eventually the two become associated in a meaningful way.
I totally agree. I think Heather’s point isn’t to eliminate “sorry” but to make sure that it’s not the focus. My preschooler and I both practice saying what we are sorry for, “hurting your feelings”, “hitting”, “screaming”, etc. with a follow up. A gentle kiss on Mommy’s ears for screaming, a band-aid for her friend if she pushed her down, etc. Most adults have a hard time giving a heartfelt apology and we believe that knowing HOW to apologize is really important to developing deep, meaningful relationships as an adult.