If we understand that the purpose of discipline is to teach, not to punish, it’s important to ensure our kids learn from the experience. No consequence is effective unless the child learns from it.
With this in mind, I always have a chat with my kids after every act of discipline. Timeouts or some form of isolation usually work well for my kids. After every timeout, I make sure to go over a few things to make sure they learned what went wrong and why it was wrong. Here’s our typical timeout script:
Me: “What did you do wrong?”
Child: Either explains what he did wrong or says he doesn’t know. If he says he doesn’t know, I’ll tell him I’ll come back later after he “remembers” what he did wrong. Usually, it’s an issue of them not wanting to own up to what they did. If I can see in their eyes that they truly don’t know what they did wrong, I will prompt them a bit.
Me: “I need an apology.” The child will then apologize if he didn’t already.
Child: “I’m sorry for XYZ.” I ALWAYS require that they state what they did wrong in their apology. I don’t accept a simple, “I’m sorry.”
Child: “Will you forgive me?” This last step is crucial. I don’t accept their apology until they ask for my forgiveness. Lucas is still learning this, as he often says, “I forgive you.” But we’re working on it.
Me: “I forgive you.” Hugs and kisses, and we’re done.
If the child hurt or offended someone else, I then make him apologize to and ask forgiveness from that person.
Here’s what the Ezzos say about forgiveness:
“Humility is the basis for healthy families. Seeking forgiveness for an offense and humbly admitting error in an effort to be restored with the offended party is a prerequisite for a loving and enduring relationship. This is serious heart business. Children and adults who are in the habit of asking for forgiveness take ownership of their wrong actions. They show they believe the relationship is worth the possible embarrassment often associated with admitting wrong,” (On Becoming Childwise).
You can start teaching the importance of asking for forgiveness when they’re young and then make it a habit after every wrongdoing.