How To Teach Your Children To Make Friends | Power Of BondingNov 29, 2023
What happens after your child quarrels with their sibling or friend? Do you make them apologize? Do you brush it off and move on to the next activity? There’s a really important learning opportunity in those moments that you can take advantage of to create lasting sibling and friendship bonds. Today, I’ll introduce you to my Acknowledge & Amends technique to help siblings (or friends) mend their relationship after disagreements or fights. This technique offers so much more than a simple or forced apology. It helps to develop empathy and perspective-taking while showing love and support for our siblings and friends. When sibling relationships or friendships are disrupted, a basic apology leaves open the door for lingering resentment that can build up, especially over years and years of sibling disagreements. My Acknowledge & Amends technique helps to build important social skills while also paving the way for lasting sibling and friendship bonds.
First, your kids need to know that it’s okay to make mistakes. Nobody is perfect, especially not young children whose primary job is to learn new things every day and whose emotion regulation skills are slowly developing. We all have moments where we may say or do things we regret. These moments do not make you a bad person or a naughty child. As frustrating as it can be when your children make mistakes, be sure that they understand that’s okay. This stems back to Carl Roger’s theory of Unconditional Positive Regard. Our kids need to know that they will always be loved and valued, regardless of what actions they take. You can disapprove of a specific behavior of theirs, but you’ll always approve of them.
Start to Make Amends
Keeping in mind that we are supporting imperfection in our children, it is our job to teach our children appropriate behavior, and that includes kind and gentle interactions with friends and siblings. Our kids need to learn how to check in with their siblings or friends after a disagreement to begin mending the relationship. There’s a lot of emphasis placed on the words “I’m sorry” in an apology, but I suggest using a different strategy called Acknowledge & Amends. In our family, your apology may or may not include the words “I’m sorry.” Instead, the key elements are:
1) Acknowledge what happened and your role in the incident. For example, “I should not have taken the toy you were playing with,” or, “I should not have hit you when you called me a name.” It’s tough for kids to take responsibility for their actions, regardless of their age, just as it’s tough for adults, but it’s critical that they understand their role in the disagreement. Awareness is the first step in preventing future disagreements.
The younger the child, the more support they’ll need from you in identifying their role in the disagreement. You might say something like, “What happened to make Jimmy start crying? Did you say or do something to him? Oh, you hit him? We don’t hit people; we use gentle touch. Do you see how hitting him was a mistake that made him sad? Jimmy’s our friend, and we want him to be happy.” This conversation should be done in a calm and caring way, with the focus being on teaching, not judging your child. You also want to be sure to validate the feelings that caused them to act that way. You might say, “What made you so upset that you hit him? Oh, you really wanted the toy, and he wasn’t sharing. It’s hard waiting for a toy, and that can be very upsetting, but still, we don’t hit people. Next time, you might ask Jimmy if he could play with the toy for another minute, then offer you a turn.” I always close out Step 1 with a reminder of a better way to handle the problem if it comes up again in the future.
For older kids who are well-trained in the Acknowledge & Amends technique, you may need only to ask, “What was your role in the disagreement?” and you’ll get a clear response. For example, yesterday, my 10-year-old and 14-year-old had heated words, and when I went into their room to see what was going on, each child was quickly able to relay the cause of the incident. One said, “He asked me something, and I overreacted and yelled.” When I queried if he had tried a more gentle response before yelling, he said he had tried several more gentle responses, but they hadn’t worked, so he lost his cool. When I asked my other child about the incident, he said, “Yeah, I was badgering him,” and understood that repetitive questioning had irritated his brother. Both age and practice help kids develop this sense of perspective and accountability.
Once you’ve helped your child to identify their role in the disagreement, be sure they articulate that to their sibling or friend. For example, “I should not have hit you to get the toy” or “I see how my badgering made you angry.” That’s the key to step 1: Acknowledge to the other person involved in the disagreement how your actions contributed to the incident.
2) Begin to make amends. Step 1 is important for building empathy and social skills to improve future interactions between your children and their friends, but the kids involved may still be feeling hurt or wronged. Step 2 is all about showing the other person that you care about them enough to help try to make them feel better now to start down the road to recovering from the incident. This can be anything from offering a hug to inviting them to do a fun activity together. For older kids and bigger mistakes, this might involve offering to do a chore of theirs. Or it could be saying three nice things about the person to make up for hurtful words. Kids can ask their sibling or friend what would make them feel better. A common response is a request that the other person states they won’t do that behavior again. Sometimes, your child will know what would make them start to feel better, and sometimes, they just need a little space before they’re ready to move on. Just hearing the offer to help make amends goes a long way to repair a sibling or friend relationship.
Apologizing using my Acknowledge & Amends technique involves accepting responsibility for our actions, acknowledging the harm we caused, and our commitment to making amends. By doing so, we open the door for healing and restoration in sibling and friend relationships. This strategy helps reduce built-up resentment that can form between friends and especially between siblings who spend time together day after day, year after year. It’s a key component in raising siblings who think of each other as friends throughout their lifetimes. What a gift that relationship is for your children!
Siblings and friends sometimes have disagreements or tiffs. It’s just part of life and learning how to interact with other people. They should not be made to feel bad about this, but rather, the focus should be on helping them to see how their actions negatively affected a situation and what could be done differently next time. These conflicts provide a learning opportunity that should be maximized, as well as an opportunity to mend the damaged relationship. An apology using my Acknowledge & Amends technique has the power to heal, strengthen, and deepen sibling and friend connections but also inspire our children to become compassionate and accountable individuals. Try it out this week if your child has a less-than-ideal interaction. Use this technique regularly, and you’ll find you’re raising caring and considerate kids with strong sibling and friendship bonds.
Teaching your kids the Acknowledge & Amends technique is part of the Consequences category of my 5 C’s parenting framework (see Check Yourself: Are You an Intentional Parent to learn more about the 5 C’s). To view more posts in this category, use the category search menu on the right of your screen. To dive deeper into the Acknowledge & Amends technique, check out my post titled The Power of Apologizing to Your Kids: Strengthening the Parent-Child Connection. Keep up the good work on your amazing parenting journey!