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    Tool 08 … The art of apology

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    A summary of ideas for discussion

    • When we make mistakes … and we will … healing the relationships with children will help us all to grow and learn.
    • 3 similar paths of apology to explore:
      • Truth ~ confession ~ forgiveness ~ restoration
      • Tender heartedness ~ understanding ~ recognition ~ reconciliation (if appropriate) ~ forgiveness
      • Sorrow ~ responsibility ~ restitution ~ forgiveness ~ repentance
    • This is an RD tool

He that cannot forgive others breaks the bridge over which he
must pass himself; for every man has need to be forgiven.
‣‣‣ Thomas Fuller


Note #1:

This tool is offered as a basis for understanding the concept of forgiveness as a tool for growing great kids.

This is the only tool presented from a Christian world view and from a particular theological viewpoint. If you find yourself already opposed to this world view to any extent, or, on reading, theologically opposed to this view, please ignore this tool and continue to others.

By all means, research the concept, meanings and applications of forgiveness from your own world view and apply it to your context or not as you wish.

This also suggests a great research question: What have you seen or heard about ‘forgiveness’ that helps to make sense of our parenting role?

Note #2:

An attempt is made below to provide a correlation between each of the patterns of apology A, B, C, D. This correlation is indicated by the numbering system used. (1, 2, 3, 4)

Note #3:

Each pattern uses a different but consistent personal pronoun.

Pattern A: 1 John 1: 5 – 9 … The Bible

1. Truth

“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

2. Confession

If we confess our sins, …

3. Forgiveness

God is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and …

4. Restoration

cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

B: These words help provide a pattern for a process for healing relationships

1. Truth

If we say we haven’t stuffed up in a relationship we are probably kidding ourselves. Who hasn’t? But what to do about it? Owning up to the truth of it is part of this first step … considering truly how an action or behaviour has been experienced by the wronged party. Acknowledgement of what the other party must be going through or thinking as a result of the unacceptable behaviour will show a level of genuine empathy and respect. Admitting the truth, owning up, is one way to show we care about the relationship.

2. Confession

Say that the action or behaviour was wrong, unacceptable, inappropriate and/or hurtful.

Say in what way it was wrong:

  • evil, dark thoughts and deeds, intentionally and deeply hurtful … from prejudices, hatreds and fear.
  • reacting badly out of our own brokenness, past abuses, bad habits.
  • confusion, ignorance or just plain forgetfulness.


Any or all of these provide possible reasons but none of them can be offered in any way that will excuse!

Say how it is we has failed in the relationship. (One way of understanding the concept being expressed here is to say that: Failure in relationship = unrighteousness = not-right relationship)

3. Forgiveness

“Please forgive me” is all we can say from the heart at this stage. Not even reasons or possible extenuating circumstances that would excuse one’s actions or inaction are valid to add at this point. Unlike God, the wronged person may not be able to forget or trust easily again. Like God, the wronged person certainly should not ignore the hurt.

Hopefully the wronged person will forgive and not do anything to damage us or take revenge or cause us further suffering. From within a Christian world-view, grace is offered at this point on the basis of Christ having already suffered the penalty of this failure through death on the cross. Hopefully we will also be able to obtain and forgive ourselves on this basis and stop any self inflicted punishment.

4. Restoration

Offer to do what is necessary to restore the relationship. Restoration may include helping to make good anything that was broken, damaged or stolen. Sometimes that’s impossible. In civil or criminal cases, this step may include abiding by lawful judgements and penalties.

Do the work necessary to uncover any root causes of why the offense occurred in the first place. Find any healing to ensure ALL relationships, past and present, with are just-right!

Note: The concept of ‘just-right’ is briefly explored here:

  • Just = fair, justice, balanced, judged, reasoned,  …
  • Right = good, whole, straight, not crooked, healthy, helpful …
  • (Also a breakfast cereal!)
  • In this sense, Righteousness = Just-right relationships


C: ‘The key to your child’s heart’

(Smalley, G 2003, The key to your child’s heart Thomas Nelson, Nashville, TN, USA.)

The order as given by this author is the order shown below. This is slightly different to the pattern above as indicated by the numbers.

With a child …

1a. Become tender hearted.

We need to reflect tenderness and softness. Gentleness has a way of melting anger. This takes a high degree of humility … often kneeling or coming under a child’s eye level increases the power of this act.

1b. Increase understanding.

Discover the truth about how she is feeling and about her perceptions of what happened. Understanding the pain she feels and how she has interpreted the offensive behaviour helps you to discover the truth of the matter and the heart of the issue.

2. Recognise the offence.

This step involves admitting that we were wrong. It means owning up to the fact that what we did was offensive to her.

5. Attempt to touch.

We all need the touch of forgiveness. If a person is willing to shake hands, hug or wrestle again we know that a person’s spirit is opening or has completely reopened. If this is not looking likely, repeat steps 1a, 1b & 2.

4. Seek forgiveness.

It is vital that we seek forgiveness from the one offended. If she has been given the chance to respond, she may find it in her heart to forgive. We can say at this point that true restoration is confession of wrong plus forgiveness granted.


The danger with offending children in some way is that they will suffer a wound in their spirit. This can lead to damaged relationships making learning more difficult than it would otherwise be.

We all make mistakes. Maturity is about taking effective action to make things just-right again where possible and when and where it is safe to do so.

D: ‘The 5 languages of Apology’

(Chapman, G & Thomas, J 2008 The 5 languages of Apology Northfield Publishing, Chicago, IL, USA)

Again, the number order indicated here attempts to show a correlation to the above patterns. It is not necessarily the order provided by the author.

1. Express regret/sorrow for the ‘truth’ of the matter.

Our body language and tone of voice needs to reflect the sincerity of our words. This step is not effective if it cannot be done out of a genuine empathy for the child and with a sorrow for the damaged relationship with him. Even a child can eventually spot fake sorrow. Complete this sentence, “I really regret … ” or “I am sorry for … ” Make sure this sentence says what one is exactly regretting or sorry for. In this way it shows one is owning up to the truth of the matter.

2. Accept responsibility.

Learn to stand up and accept responsibility for one’s action without blaming others or excusing one’s self. It’s a sign of maturity to able to confess “I was wrong.” “I stuffed up.”

3a. Make restitution

“What can I do to make things right?” Evidence of sorrow and contrition may be offered here as part of an apology. Offer to pay. In some cases, one may have to ‘do the time’ as part of all this mess.

3b. Request forgiveness

Saying “Will you please forgive me?” shows that one realises one has done something wrong. It shows one is willing to put the future of the relationship in the hands of the offended person. Look for a handshake or some form of acknowledgment that forgiveness is possible. If not, going over some of the other areas is an option or allowing some time to pass will need to be the basis of some future request. It is the right of the offended party to withhold forgiveness although it is often more damaging to the offended party in the long run to do so.

4. Genuinely repent

When an apology is not readily accepted, often the offended party is looking for evidence of changed behaviour. “I’ll try not to do that again” is part of it but actions, in this case, speak louder then words. It may take some time before the apology is accepted and even longer before trust is re-established, if at all.


The premise of Chapman & Thomas’ book is that we each have a primary language of apology and tend to hear an apology only if it is delivered in that primary language. Learning to give and receive in all five is a mark of maturity! Well worth a read!

Further Research Questions:

How many of these aspects of an apology are we teaching/asking children to understand or practice in those times where an apology is called for. One out five? Three out of five? For example, four out of five?: I’m sorry for … … … . It was wrong. Please forgive me. How can I make it up to you?

Most recent edit: 19FEB15~pd

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