Apologies are in the news.
As Jian says he’s sorry (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/jian-ghomeshi-cathryn-borel-sexual-assault-charge-1.3576702) I reflect on my time as an Early Childhood Education instructor at Red River College. I helped my students learn about positive guiding techniques that could be used with young children.
We talked about firstly preventing problems by setting up positive, inviting environments for girls and for boys. These places offered all children choices, space, time and respect. The directors of such child care centres developed, reinforced and enforced policies to insure the safety and happiness of all.
If problems occurred among children, in spite of our best efforts, we never encouraged apologies. My students often questioned this.
“It’s good to say you’re sorry,” they said.
Is it meaningful to say, “I’m sorry I took your toy” when the Early Childhood Educator (ECE) gives the child those words? Does the child’s behaviour change in any way? Or does the child learn that it’s okay to hurt, intimidate or frighten others as long as he or she apologizes after?
Empty words. Guilt free. No opportunity for discussion. No voice for the victim. No solutions. No learning or growth.
Gradually and with a lot of practice, Early Childhood Educators learn to help children solve problems with each other.
Perhaps a young girl is painting at the easel. A little boy comes up behind her and pushes her against the wet paint as he grabs her paintbrush. She cries out and an ECE approaches.
“It looks like you have a problem here. What’s happening?”
“I was painting a picture and he pushed me and took my stuff,” says the girl.
“But I want to paint too!” exclaims the boy.
“So you both want to paint. What do you think you can do about that?” asks the ECE.
“He could paint at the other easel. He’s crowding me,” replies the girl.
The ECE checks with the boy, “What do you think about that idea?”
“Okay, I’ll go to the other easel, but I want the same colours as her!” he retorts.
“So you have decided that you will each paint at your own easel with your own paints?” confirms the ECE.
“Yeah!” they agree.
“You figured out how to solve your problem. Have fun painting!” says the ECE.
By four year olds.
With a little support and a respectful environment, the perpetrator and the victim can speak.
The ECEs provide expectations for appropriate interactions, knowing that they will have the support of the centre director.
There are opportunities for change through positive guidance. The girl feels safe in speaking up and the boy works with her to find solutions. Both learn.
It’s not that difficult.
And it’s so much more effective than the emptiness of a scripted apology.
©Conni Cartlidge May 2016