Sorry is just a word. I feel that people use this word way too often—so much that it has lost meaning. People use it as a quick fix, “I said I’m sorry…” Are they really sorry? Do they even know what sorry means? The word sorry is defined as feeling sorrow or regret, but too often people repeat that same action or behavior. It becomes a “sorry cycle.” I feel that if someone was truly feeling sorrow or regret, the behavior would stop—ending the cycle. There is a tendency to slap on the “sorry band aid” instead of learning from one’s behavior or actions. Sorry is just a word; it doesn’t fix anything.
Think about this word through the eyes of the child. Do you think young children know what it means to be sorry? Do they understand regret and sorrow? Jean Piaget’s theories of development indicate young children are egocentric. Once children begin the third stage of cognitive development, concrete operational, they begin to use more logical thinking and eliminate egocentricism. Egocentrism is the inability to differentiate between self and others. More specifically, it is the inability to understand or assume any perspective other than their own. For example, a child who takes the block from her peer is so focused on her own needs and desires; she may not even be aware or concerned with the needs of her peers. The child has no regard for her peer because of her own focus. Children during this stage of development are still processing and identifying their emotions/feelings; they cannot fully comprehend the emotions of their peers or the idea of empathy. As educators, we understand that children are egocentric and these skills are emerging, so why are we forcing children to say, “I’m sorry”?
More and more educators are recognizing the importance of emotional and social development and its everlasting benefits on children. Often I work with teachers to help them strategize ways to increase children’s self esteem and self control. We discuss problem-solving strategies, appropriately expressing emotions, and encouraging children to begin to recognize the emotions of their peers. Instead of forcing children to say “Sorry,” let’s help them to become problem solvers and to learn from mistakes. Would it be more beneficial to encourage a child to focus on what he can do next time, what he can do to help fix the problem, or what he could do to help his peer feel better? Instead of just telling children to say they’re sorry, ask these questions:
- Can these issues be solved through actions from the child? For example, should the child help rebuild a peer’s block structure?
- Does the child need adult/peer modeling?
- Should we ask the child’s peers what solutions they think would help?
- Do we need to provide the words to help the children begin the problem-solving process?
In early childhood education, we are helping children build skills and construct a strong foundation that will last a lifetime. Instead of creating more people who are sorry, let’s create children who are problem solvers. Sorry is just a word.