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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

I'm sorry. Excuse me. Pardon me. My apologies.

I know some people believe that forced apologies are insincere. I've heard it over and over again and while I understand the fundamentals of the belief, it doesn't change the fact that we should apologize when our children can't.

Some of you are probably wondering what I've been smoking to say something like that.  The truth is, if parents didn't care about what others thought of their child, they wouldn't have behavioral therapy. They wouldn't care about social skills and focus on life skills, educational skills, and vocational skills. But that's not true for most. We want our kids to have friends in school. We want them to make friends as adults. We want them to have girlfriends and boyfriends, husbands and wives. We want them to have children. We don't want them to be social pariahs.

Honestly, how many apologies do people make that are sincere? Not many. Every person we bump into with a rushed, "excuse me" or "I'm sorry" isn't steeped in genuine remorse and guilt. And rarely are people as emphatically remorseful as they sometimes make it sound.

Yes, there are some things we do that keep us up at night because we feel so badly about them.  But not many. Most things are forgotten about within five minutes.

Does that mean we shouldn't apologize? No.

Apologies are a social construct. It's a display of politeness. It's a social skill. We can't teach our children social skills by excluding the apology unless they mean it, especially when they are likely to be even  less remorseful than a typical child because logically, why should they apologize for something they didn't know?  They should do it for the same reason you get a ticket for speeding in a residential area when there is no posted speed limit. Not knowing doesn't excuse the behavior.  Everyone knows it's twenty-five mph in a residential area, posted or not.

It's not about whether or not they have autism. Austism might be why  they don't understand that biting is inappropriate, but that still doesn't excuse the behavior. The majority are able to learn. Having a consequence for biting is something I'm sure most parents have, but they don't always make their kids apologize or apologize for them. This is a mistake. If the child were typical, the likelihood of a forced apology is much greater. Don't let autism be an excuse.  It's not. The whole point of behavioral therapy is to teach them what is acceptable behavior and what isn't.

Apologies aren't meant to always be sincere.  Remember - it's a social construct. It's about being polite. Acknowledging that something occurred. Having a consequence to hitting a child isn't the same as having a consequence and making the hitter acknowledge that hitting is wrong.  Apologizing makes a person internalize what happened as being offensive as opposed to just suffering through a time-out because mom's pissed. This occurs even on a subconscious level. This is how we learn expected behavior.

One could say that apologizing is only meant to shame the offender and well, yes.  That's true. Get ready for the obvious...because it's meant to teach social skills and right from wrong. But a person can only feel as much shame as they allow.  Through good and bad acts, rewards, punishments and apologies and praise, we learn to put that "price tag" on our acts.

How much shame does one feel when they apologize for bumping into someone? None. How much shame does a person feel when they steal someone's husband? Probably a whole lot. Because doing bad things in the past have taught us the degrees to which we should feel shame and apologies are a part of that.

I'm sorry (see, another insincere apology but socially it's expected because I'm expressing an alternate view than others and hopefully doing so in an inoffensive way - that's always debatable with me but I digress), but apologies are a part of life. They are a part of learning appropriate social behavior. If typical behavior is what a parent wants their child to learn, teach that child to apologize because more people expect it than don't. By not teaching them to apologize whether they mean it or not, parents are setting their kids up to be ridiculed and hated for being a rude and pompous ass by their peers in the future. I don't think that's what parents want for their kids.

Whether or not a personal belief is to like or dislike the insincere apology, until insincere apologies are passe in society as a whole, give your child all the tools they need to succeed in the society as it is today. They are already starting behind the eight ball, why make it harder?


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