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Sorry I’m Not Sorry

It’s been a long time since I last posted. As in, really long. You could have watched every episode of Bones, Friday Night Lights, and, probably, Dr.Who on Netflix since I last posted. You’re welcome (and also, my apologies). My main rationale for my MIA status is a little thing called my clinical fellowship. The real world is crazy and busy and hard, but oh so rewarding! Even on my worst days, I love what I do (and that’s a hard position to beat)! The good news is that my CF is officially over! I’m a real, live SLP now. The bad news is that my caseload and workload didn’t suddenly dip, so I get to stay as busy as before. That being said, I wake up each morning with the privilege of knowing that something I do that day might actually help someone. So cool.

This post is all about apologies, which is timely for a few reasons. For one, I owe my readers an apology for my absence. Explanations for our unexpected behaviors are nice, but they don’t necessary fix the situation. Just because I gave you my (really good) reason for not writing, it doesn’t mean you didn’t lament my absence (at least, that’s what I tell myself). Secondly, my consulting role in a K-8 school this year has given me a lot to think about when it comes to apologies. Kids (AND adults) do unexpected things all the time. We may say and do things that we immediately regret, but can’t take back. In those moments, all we have to fall back on is the skill of a genuine apology that reveals not just an acknowledgement of our behaviors, but also an action plan for the future. Third, Jonah Hill gave an amazing apology on Jimmy Fallon’s show this week in response to a not-so-nice thing he said to a not-so-nice paparazzi dude.

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I bet that if you counted up all the apologies you’ve given in your lifetime, they would outweigh a lot of things you wish you did more often (like eating watermelon, laying on a sunny beach, or playing with puppies). Despite how that may manifest for you, I don’t say this because I think we are inherently bad people who are inclined to do unkind things all the time. I say this simply to point out how often we engage in apologies. Yet considering the number of times we do this action, we don’t spend much time actually teaching our children how to apologize. As a result, we’ve ended up with the drive-by apology; the “sorry I’m not sorry” apology.

Apologizing is a critical social communication and social regulation skill. It’s the verbal attempt to repair a social breakdown, and requires relatively in-tact cognitive flexibility, emotional regulation, and perspective taking. Not only are these tough skills for children with existing social regulation or social cognitive challenges, but these are tough skills for just about anyone. I would argue that our responsibility as adults with (more or less) developed executive brains is to teach children howwhen, and why to apologize in order to support their social successes. My script for apologies may seem simple, but it targets 2 critical cognitive processes: hindsight and foresight. Once an unexpected situation has been identified for all parties (and everyone is re-regulated enough to engage in a social repair), I recommend the following script:

1. “I’m sorry for [unexpected behavior], which caused you to feel [emotion of other(s)]”

  • This step involves hindsight. Hindsight is the ability to recognize past situations (what you did and how someone felt as a result). Children may need support and mediation to reach this level of awareness, but it’s a critical step before starting an apology. I recommend using a social behavior map to help children understand the relationship between their actions and the feelings of others.

2. “Next time I will [description of expected behavior]”

  • This step involves foresight. Foresight is the ability to anticipate how the future might be same/different when compared to the past, or how new situations might be same/different when compared to past experiences. Anticipation of future consequences allows us to manage our present decisions so they align us with our ultimate goals. You can think of this step in the apology as the mental re-do; a chance to script a more expected behavior for next time.

So what does this look like all put together? Here’s an example from my own heart: “I’m sorry for being away from my blog for so long, which may have caused you to feel confused or disappointed. Next time I anticipate taking a break, I will share those plans with my readers so you know what to expect.” How do you feel? Validated? Appreciated? Perhaps a bit more understood and acknowledged? That’s my hope.

I said it before and I’ll say it again, apologies are hard. They’re uncomfortable, embarrassing, and humbling. AND they’re a critical social repair skill we need to master in order to make it through this tricky world. Just as it benefits children to receive explicit instruction in emotional and behavioral regulation, all children benefit from scripting and support for effective apologies. If you work with older students, I recommend showing the Jonah Hill apology clip, and creating some space to discuss students’ reactions and thoughts.

Until the next post, I wish you all a happy Thursday!

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