I know I've been in this situation countless times and I often feel like the mother of the other child is looking for me to force Z1 to say sorry. I never do. First of all, Z1 would never say sorry. I could physically twist his arm if I wanted and he wouldn't do it. He would sooner stalk off, throw himself on the floor, cross his arms and frown, etc.--an apology would not be coming any time soon. If he feels his actions were justified, I can forget about an apology. Which leaves me staring at the mom helplessly as she (essentially) shakes her head at what a poor parenting job I'm doing because Z1 just won't say it.
So these days, I'm much more focused on getting him to empathize with folks that are hurt. In this way, whatever apology he offers is heartfelt. This doesn't always fly with other mothers even if I apologize on Z1's behalf and take steps to make sure the incident doesn't happen again like talking to Z1 about keeping his hands to himself or removing him from the situation. It's just not good enough. They want, no expect, that apology.
With all the spiritual and psychological work I've been doing to get myself to a healthy place, I realize that expecting or demanding an apology for perceived wrongs is really a waste of time. Often times, if a person knows an apology is expected, they'll give it but it won't be sincere and they'll be sure to commit the offense again. Why? Because that person may not feel he/she did anything wrong in the first place. That person may not understand (or care about) why you are offended. He/she may think that you taking offense is silly or uncalled for. That person simply may not care. Period. Why expend energy expecting an apology? These days I'm much more inclined to process these things on my own, to recognize why I was hurt or offended and do things within my own power to avoid it happening again. This sometimes includes modifying my behavior with the offending person (e.g. not being as open or as friendly). It's always my hope that if someone sees they have hurt me that they will make an effort to make me feel better. But as always, how I feel and how I react, at the end of the day, is solely my responsibility.
So Z1 rarely expects apologies at this point when he gets into it with other kids. Playground scuffles usually end with him coming to vent to me, I sympathize with him and hug him, and give him options for how he can continue to make his playing experience positive. Yet, I'm careful to model to him how and when to apologize. Like if I accidentally break something of his or step on his toe, I will say, "Oh Z1, I accidently broke your puzzle. I know that made you very upset and I'm sorry. May I help you put it back together?" I'm careful to slow him down after he's pushed his brother down so that he can take a look at how sad/hurt his brother is. I will ask Z1 how he thinks Z2 is feeling and if he were in Z2's shoes, what he would want or need. Without coercion, Z1 will go over and try to soothe his brother and apologize. So Z1 does indeed say sorry but that's when he wants to--when he realizes that he did something that hurt someone else (even if he feels hurt or treated unjustly himself)--and I don't have to pull teeth to get him to do it either. To me, this makes a whole lot more sense--especially in light of the fact that children get over things so quickly because they tend towards wanting to be joyful, light and happy.
I was bullied as a child and one thing I remember so clearly was being treated horribly and the bully taunting me with, "Oh, I'm sorry!" not to make me feel better, exactly, but just as part of the meanness so they could say they didn't mean it when, in fact, they really did. I remember reporting the bullying to a teacher and me and the bully being brought together and the teacher forcing the bully to apologize. The bully would always say "I'm Sorry" and then turn around not more than five minutes after and continue with the bullying--to an even fiercer degree and much more insidiously because I had the nerve to tell. No one, it seemed, was interested in really fixing the pain. Everyone was more interested in the superficial politeness. I wasn't amused.
Saying sorry is the social thing to do. It's polite. And we all want to teach our children how to be polite. But more important to me than teaching my children politeness for the sake of getting along is teaching them empathy and sincerity. More important to me is teaching that words have meaning and should be meaningful (not empty). I know if I can get Z1 to empathize consistently, to understand when someone else feels like they've been treated unjustly, to care when someone is hurt, the apology will come and it will come without force. And then the sorry will mean something.
Photo Credit: "I'm Sorry" by hey mr. glen on Flickr.com