Tuesday, May 16, 2017

"I Think They Should Say, 'I'm Sorry'"

These kids have been playing together all year, every day. Part of this remarkable friendship is that they have very rarely wasted time in conflict. I've written about these kids before, about how they call themselves the Octograbbers, and about about how I usually just leave them to their own devices, which is what I was doing yesterday, sitting on a stool near the swings. I was watching some other kids playing in the hammock that our kindergarten teacher, Teacher Rachel, had hung between a couple of the trees. 

The voice came from over my shoulder, "Teacher Tom." It was one of the Octograbbers lolling about in one the swings. I turned to him and said, "You're swinging."

"I told S and V to stop calling me a 'bad guy' but they won't stop." S and V are also Octograbbers. I answered, "Are you a bad guy?"


"Then that's name-calling. We all agreed that name-calling is against the rules."

"I know, but they keep calling me 'bad guy'."

I looked for S and V who were running together quite a ways off. It was notable that they weren't carrying the Octograbbers' trademark shovels. "They're far away. I don't think they're calling you 'bad guy' right now, are they?"

"No," he concede, "but they won't stop."

 I said, "You said stop and now they aren't doing it. I think maybe they did stop."

This is more or less how I deal with tattling: I try to point out that in most cases they've already dealt with the situation so there's really not much for me to do. He's not a kid prone to tattling, which made this report of rule abuse unusual, but it was clear to me that his friends were currently far away, abiding by his request to stop calling him 'bad guy'.

He seemed to be considering this so I returned my attentions to the rowdy hammock play. Moments later S and V came racing past. S said, "Bad guy!" then the two ran off in mock fear.

"See!" he said, "I told them to stop and they're still doing it." He didn't appear particularly upset, but now I was feeling like a jerk for not believing him when he told me they "won't stop." I've taught this kid for three years. I should have known that he would have only turned to me for help as a last resort.

I said, "I heard that. You said to stop and they haven't stopped. Do you want me to remind them of the rules?"

He did, so I tracked down each of the offenders and told them that their friend was unhappy and reminded them that we had all agreed "No name-calling." S immediately said, "Okay," while V listened without a response. I returned to the swings to report, "I reminded them of the rules."

I resumed my seat on the stool while he hung in the swing for a couple minutes, then, "Teacher Tom, I think they should say, 'I'm sorry'."

I agreed, "They probably should. I would apologize if I hurt my friend's feelings."

He still didn't seem particularly upset. "They should say 'I'm sorry.'" Just then V and S came racing past, this time without saying a word. He called out, "You guys should say 'I'm sorry'!" but they either didn't hear him or were ignoring him. "See, they didn't saying 'I'm sorry'."

"No they didn't" I agreed, "But I don't know how to make people say 'I'm sorry.' I think they have to say it themselves."

He stewed it for a moment, then headed down the hill, making a beeline for S. The boys interacted for a moment, then he talked to V after which he returned to his swing. "S said he was sorry, but V didn't say anything."

"She didn't say she was sorry?"


"And you want her to say she's sorry."


We watched S and V circle around the swing set, then race back down the hill. I said, "I don't know how to make someone say 'I'm sorry'." We spent more time discussing the matter. He seemed far more upset at the lack of an apology than about the name-calling. I told him, "They called you 'bad guy', you didn't like it, so you told them to stop. Then you wanted them to say 'I'm sorry' so you asked them to say it. One of them did, one of them didn't. I think you've done everything you can do." He didn't agree, "I think she should say 'I'm sorry' too," then proceeded to spend the next ten minutes chasing her around, insisting on an apology which she was clearly not going to give.

Last night was our year-end parent potluck/business meeting which just happened to be hosted by this boy's parents. I was among the first to arrive and he was playing butler. As we waited for others to arrive, we chatted. He was in a festive mood, but wanted to return to our playground conversation. "They should have said 'I'm sorry'."

"I know, but S did say it, didn't he?"

"Yeah, he said it, but V didn't."

A parent overheard us and I summarized the situation in a couple sentences. He corrected me, "S is the one who called me 'bad guy'. V didn't say it."

"V didn't call you 'bad guy'? Do you think maybe that's why she didn't apologize? Because she didn't break our rule?"

"Probably so!" he agreed happily before racing off to answer the door his sense of justice apparently now finally satisfied. 

One boy felt offended. He spoke up. He wanted an apology and asked for it. The child who offended him apologized. The child who had not offended him declined, having nothing about which to say 'I'm sorry' and she would not be pestered into it. What remarkable kids: what remarkable humans. Conflict is inevitable, even among best friends. I don't think any people, whatever their age, could have handled this one any better than did these Octograbbers.

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