What Hogwarts taught us about saying sorry

16 Jan

Letter of apology

Last week I posted about the impact that a rainbow coloured notebook has had in our house. This week the notebook is making its presence known again by helping teach my 5-year-old some life lessons about saying ‘sorry’. To understand when a simple ‘sorry’ is required is relatively straightforward, even to a child. When it comes to those moments in life when we beat ourselves up unnecessarily, that’s a harder thing to understand.  Knowing when you’ve no need to apologise is just as important as knowing when you do need to.

I had found my daughter busily writing in her notebook. When I asked what she was doing, she looked up with a serious face and said: “I’m writing letters to my friends to say I’m sorry.” Her earnestness tugged at my heart. She explained what had happened. She had told her three closest friends that they were going to Hogwarts together. More than that – they were going on the Hogwarts Express and it would be picking them up in the playground. She had later told them that they weren’t really going at all. Apparently there was some (I suspect momentary and mild) disappointment and as a consequence she felt she had let her friends down. Severely.

It was the words she was using in her letter that upset me most: “sorry I told lies”. ‘Lie’ is a strong word, too strong for what she had done – playing out her love of Harry Potter with some good old-fashioned imagination. She was putting herself through the wringer by writing formal apologies to her friends when in reality they were highly unlikely to be giving it a second thought. I tried to explain that giving her friends the letters risked making an issue out of something that wasn’t even there.  (Hard when in her mind something was very much there.) She’d not done anything wrong, I told her, and it was best to let it go for the bit of fun that it was. I was so proud of her but at the same time so saddened by the responsibility she was heaping on herself.

Teaching children to say sorry is part of basic manners. I hope that mine can learn to use the word ‘sorry’ in its strongest sense – when it can fix a situation and restore equilibrium – and never to punish themselves unnecessarily. The British are an annoyingly apologetic lot. We apologise for so many things simply because we believe we are inconveniencing other people. You really shouldn’t say sorry unless you’ve done something wrong. “Why did you apologise to them? They bumped into you!” I say to my good-mannered husband who will apologise at the drop of a hat.

In the end my husband confiscated my daughter’s letters and hid them away. It was painful to see her rail against this but it would have been even more painful to watch her solemnly handing out the letters in the playground. I love her for giving a damn and for caring about her friends. I hope she carries these positive qualities into her adult life. But I also hope that every time she feels the need to say ‘sorry’ it will be the right time and it will serve to empower her rather than sap her self-esteem.

PS. Safe to say, all is as happy in the playground as it ever was even though, to this day, the Hogwarts Express is yet to arrive.

3 Responses to “What Hogwarts taught us about saying sorry”

  1. simonsometimessays January 16, 2014 at 7:51 am #

    Thoughtful, and I’m not ashamed to say so.

    Non, je ne regrette rien.

  2. James January 17, 2014 at 1:00 am #

    Fine piece as ever, if I may say so. I’m telling myself it is the different nature of girls, because both sons have a clear policy on apology: tell the sibling to do it, because it was obviously his fault (or mine, alternatively).

  3. Actually Mummy... February 4, 2014 at 10:37 am #

    I’m so sorry I only just saw this. It’s adorable, and lovely writing, made so much better for the sentiment of a little girl. You can be proud of her x

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