An apology can be shallow and meaningless, if the question of how it should be expressed is not addressed with the pupil and other involved parties.


Help the child think about to whom, how, when, and where to address his or her apology.



I think you owe him an apology.
Ok, I'll apologize if it helps someone.
I think you have to if you want to settle this.
I'll do that if I have to.
Very good. How do you intend to apologize?

Students are often surprisingly willing to apologize for their actions. This, however, may only be because simply issuing an apology is a easy tactic by which to escape further penalties. This may occur because expressing blanket contrition is often made too readily an easy option for them when not linked to other conditions.

There are different levels of apology. A hastily uttered ”OK, I'm sorry,” is indeed an apology, but it is not nearly as meaningful as a frank and more thoughtful apology expressed before several others: ”What I did was wrong and now that you are all present I want to say that I am sorry for what I did.”

Apologizing is one of the most important social skills a young person must learn to master. Many students are not proficient in this skill, and thus wrongdoings should be utilized as opportunities for students to practice the concept of apology.

A specific written apology is often a better alternative to a simple blanket verbalization. When the student composes his apology, he needs to consider what to say and how to best express himself. In a well formed apology letter, the student:

  • frankly describes the incident
  • demonstrates that he understands the harm that he has caused by his action
  • apologizes for what he did.

A boy had pushed a smaller boy two years younger than himself, while both were on the climbing apparatus in the playground. The younger boy had fallen to the ground, cutting his lip, which then had started to bleed. When the incident was discussed immediately afterwards with the teacher acting as playground monitor, the older boy admitted readily to what he had done and appeared to understand quite well that what he had done was dangerous, and mean. He was willing to apologize "on the spot". The teacher asked him, however, to first give some thought to how he should apologize, and then asked the other classmates to participate in a discussion of what would be an appropriate way to apologize. Ultimately, it was agreed that the boy should write a frank letter of apology to the the smaller boy, a letter that the smaller boy could then also show his parents at home.

Next step
The fact that the student apologizes for his wrongdoing and indicates that he is aware of the harmful consequences of his actions are, however, not necessarily sufficient to convince others, or indeed the perpetrator himself, that he truly regrets his infraction. In order to be more meaningful, he shall, when expressing his apology, also indicate a willingness to address, in some way, the wrong that he committed. This step is discussed next under the heading "Atonement".

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