Teachers of young children often spend a lot of time in September teaching simple social skills so that a classroom can run smoothly throughout the rest of the school year.
Social skills are the hardest skills of all for this age group as they are so egocentric. It is the basis for friendship, the ability to play with others and the ability to be able to control and express feelings and emotions. When solving problems independently, I have often found that kids do usually learn to say sorry quickly. Unfortunately, often the “go to” response after this is, “It’s okay!” and then the children walk away from each other.
This bothers me deeply as children know it isn’t okay that someone hurt them or their feelings. When a child hears this, after doing something wrong, I have found they often easily dismiss their error and the problem reoccurs frequently. Remember, the last thing they have heard is that “it’s okay” to do that, even though they admitted to their actions and said they were sorry.
We explicitly teach our children to say, “I forgive you. Please don’t do that again!” Developing this language with young children validates that a wrongdoing occurred and that we can forgive others.
It does not dismiss the issue or make it bigger than it needs to be. If we ever hear someone respond to a social problem with, “it’s okay,” I instantly stop their conversation with, “Well, actually no. It is not okay that they did that. But, we can forgive them for doing it and ask them not to do it again!”
We have found that children are more willing to own up to their mistakes when they know they will be forgiven for their actions and, in the end, this leads to fewer behavior problems. Providing this safe environment where students talk about mistakes and forgiveness is essential for developing ownership for behavior, long lasting friendships, and self-regulation skills!