Every summer I seem to try a few different ideas to improve our routine or work on those areas where I feel like I have dropped the ball. This summer I pulled a couple ideas from things I read and we've had more success than I expected!
4 part apology
I read an interesting article about teaching kids how to apologize. (http://www.cuppacocoa.com/a-better-way-to-say-sorry/) It's so difficult to say that you are sorry in a productive way, even for adults! And many times it is not very satisfying to have someone only say, "I'm sorry."
I found that this article gave suggestions that helped me make the jump from what I knew was a good way to ask for forgiveness to it being something we could teach. The general form is, "I'm sorry that I ____. It was wrong because _____. In the future I will ____. Will you forgive me?"
We don't ask them to always give a 4-part apology, but I often will when emotions are high or physical violence is involved. The first few times I walked through each step and had the kids make suggestions about what to say. Now the older two can work through it for the most part and the 4 year old needs a little help still.
What has surprised me is that taking the time to say all four parts diffuses the situation and usually puts the children back on the same team. In the past, I know that having one child apologize simply, without feeling, did not make a dent in hurt feelings or bad attitudes. You can't make, "Sorry," sincere if it isn't.
In trying this method I was hoping that down the road the kids would be able to ask for forgiveness out in the "real world" but expected that if one person did something that everyone involved knew was wrong that the apology I requested would fall about as flat as always.
Instead, it forces the kids to listen to each other. I am surprised at the number of times the offended party is itching to get back to whatever situation caused the initial drama. Having to pause long enough to hear someone compose 4 sentences allows everyone to come to their senses. Other times, if someone is rightfully upset or hurt it does bring some sincerity to the situation. (Using positive language for the steps is important.)
I have enjoyed seeing them help each other find the words to use and seeing the difference in how they treat each other as they move forward. Especially when both people have something to apologize for. If the toddler is around he'll say his version of "forgive!" after everyone has said their parts and he'll clap for them. Encouraging civil conversation, and having a form to help us along, heals a lot of wounds.
Today, in the heat of the moment, M3 bit M2. I separated them, had them sit for a minute or two to calm down, and then asked her to give a full apology to her brother. She said, "I'm sorry that I bit you. It was wrong because it hurt you and did not respect you. In the future I will ask first."
At that point M2, who had every right to be upset at his sister, broke into giggles and said, "Well, I'm never going to say yes to you!" Then she asked for forgiveness, he gave it happily, and they went off to play in different rooms, each feeling better. (Even with a 4 part apology I get to impose other consequences if the situation needs it!)