Polite or pushover? What are we teaching our children?

We play UNO at night as a family, straight after dinner, Evie (our five-year-old) is learning about maths and games and numbers, so it is helpful for her, and it’s fun – what more could you want right?

So, for those of you unfamiliar with UNO, each player gets seven cards, and they need to race to get rid of their cards and catch opposing players with cards left in their hands, which then scores points for that player. If you win, you have no cards left and no points.

What I have noticed about Evie is that when she gets a “draw 4” and has to use it, it takes her a lot longer because she doesn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. Now, I would love to think this is my kind-hearted daughter, but I think it runs deeper than that. 

She also started saying sorry when she would “skip” someone. I gently told her that it’s just a game and that she doesn’t need to apologise, she told me she does it because she feels terrible. I suspect it’s because she doesn’t feel confident.

I then had to make a choice, encourage her not to apologise and teach her when you should apologise and when you shouldn’t or leave it and watch her grow up apologising for shiz she hasn’t done. I am sure you know which one I did (to be clear, it was the first).

I see this play out in my work, women (especially) say sorry constantly, and it doesn’t help them with their careers or credibility. Hell – I used to do this myself until I realised I was giving my power away. It is so ingrained in us as little people isn’t it? I still find myself apologising when someone backs into me in the supermarket – my husband, he barges through, no problems at all. Why? Why do we all behave in this way? 

Check out this article from Business Insider about the author’s experience around saying sorry.

What can we do instead to teach our children  (and ourselves) that they do not need to apologise in order to set them up for the future:

  1. Help them to understand the feelings and speak about those feelings; sometimes, they want to please mum or dad, as they grow up, they will try and please a boss, colleagues or a partner.
  • Give them some other language choices; sometimes they don’t know any other words to use, so they use the ones they hear (more on that next).
  • Role Modelling – Do you do this? Do you apologise constantly and unnecessarily? Those little eyes are looking at you, you know!

Now, if I take this up a level to you, dear reader, it’s a little more complicated! I will give it my best shot, though!

  1. Think of your own childhood
  • Is it a reflex answer, do you do it without even noticing?
  • Get rid of it.

Let’s unpack these a little bit more:

  1. Have a think about your own childhood and think about when you “over apologised”, a simple question to ask yourself may be “was I allowed to voice my opinion as a child?” or “did something happen, an event of some sorts that shaped how I assert myself now.”
  • Is it a reflex answer?  Do you do it without even noticing? Now that you have read this article, you will see it a lot more. When do you do it? Are you in an uncomfortable situation? Are you being asked for things you don’t feel you can deliver?
  • Get rid of it. Start replacing it with different language, instead of saying “sorry I am late” for a meeting try “thanks for waiting”, here are a few more, try it and see how you go.

As I was penning this article, The Digital Picnic posted on their feed about this that went right off – and not surprisingly, and now there is a hashtag #TDPsorryban, which literally, made my heart sing!

Is this you? Does any of this resonate with you? I work with lots of women, when I tell this type of story, the nods I get and the stories that I get told are one version or another of this. My challenge to you, should you choose to accept it – jot down how many times in a day you say sorry, this could be in person, on the phone, via email, with your children, partner, at the shopping centre, just jot it down – oh, and I would love to see you pop a comment below if you do it and have the courage to post it also!

Be enthusiastic, optimistic and energetic every day.

Em x

Looking for something else?

Emma also has a podcast.