why I make my kids say "I'm sorry" (even when they aren't)

This month I'm reading Give Them Grace. I think it's important to be willing to learn from others, even when their style is different from what comes naturally to us, and so I'm reading it. I don't agree with everything in the book, but there are a few things I've really loved learning and re-learning as I read through. Primarily, I want my parenting to reflect the gospel and the love of Jesus.

One thing I don't agree with in Give Them Grace is the author's teaching on not making children apologize when their hearts aren't truly sorry. This school of thought holds bluntly to teaching in scripture that God cares about the heart, not religious performance. And I get that. Jesus says in Matthew 15:8, "This people honours me with their lips, but their heart is far from me", and that would certainly suggest that we not encourage our children to have an outward faith that doesn't match their inward heart. But does this apply to training them to deal with the ramifications of conflict and sin? Does this affect how we train them to grow in character?

Our job as parents is to train up a child in the way he should go (Proverbs 22:6).
They need us to teach them what to do! They know nothing!
Young children especially, need to be trained in the ways of their culture, the expectations of their family, every little thing. They will know from watching us, and I sure hope they hear us saying sorry frequently. And they will know from our training.

This may seem robotic, but in some cases, it's even in the script we give them. When someone gives my children a treat they might say "thank you", but they also might forget. And it's then my job to remind them with the script, what is expected of them. It might be a prompt: "what do we say, guys?" or an all out command: "please say thank you to the man who just gave you a free bagel" (sidenote: St. Viateur Bagels rarely make kids pay for their bagels. Run there with your little one now. You're welcome), but it comes from me.

They might forget or they might not know, and it's my job to teach them what their heart should be feeling, even if their heart isn't feeling it at this moment. Because the majority of young children don't have repentant hearts or grateful hearts. They're new to society (generally speaking) and they're likely not professing Christians, but they are looking to us to see how they should act and even how they should feel.

And here's the beautiful thing: they actually listen and actually learn. It may be microscopic and we may need to wince to see it, but it's happening. They're catching on.

From the get go, we've instructed our children to apologize when they've done wrong. I believe this points them to true repentance which is needed for salvation. They apologize to God for their sin, they apologize to us, their parents, for breaking our rules, and they apologize to the person they've hurt, if applicable. What I see now, more often than not, is kids who start out haughty and proud and angry and the very words "I'm sorry" seem to bring the humility that I can't fabricate. Often when I instruct one of my kids to say sorry, their voice and demeanor change completely with those simple two words. Faith before feeling. Action before emotion.

Allowing your children to only speak what reflects their heart is poetic and noble, but it neglects the rigorous work of sanctification and discipline that will be their life's work. There are STILL times when I don't feel sorry but I say sorry. I'm not being a liar by saying sorry, I'm acting in faith. I'm doing what's right and what's commanded of me even though my heart isn't there. But my heart so often follows! Like any aspect of Godly character, humility and gratitude don't always come naturally, but we are to strive for them and act in faith when our wayward hearts don't mobilize.

The other aspect of instructing your children to apologize in every circumstance, is it can bring forgiveness to the forefront. We've taught our kids, there's no "I'm sorry" without a request for forgiveness. And there's no request for forgiveness that we're allowed to deny. Likewise, when one of my kids doesn't want to forgive, or doesn't feel forgiving, they're gently instructed that they have to. In the same way that we're training them that the proper response to sin is repentance, the proper response to repentance in God's kingdom is always forgiveness.

If we wait until they always believe it and always yield to their convictions, they may never learn these foundational truths. But conversely if we train them from the beginning in these practices which so clearly reflect our relationship with God, their hearts will likely follow.

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