Monday, August 21, 2006

Vicarious Apologies

Here's another story from my days of preschool teaching.

My favorite thing about teaching preschool was that the children were young enough that I could do vicarious apologies. For example...
Steven is in a bad mood and takes something from Desha. Desha gets upset. She runs to me and tells me what happened. (I probably saw anyway, having Teacher Eyes in the back of my head.)

I ask her what she wants. In the beginning of the year she would say she wants the thing back. Later on, after being in my class a while, she would say that Steven should apologize and give the thing back.

I ask her to wait while I talk to Steven. I go ask him, "Are you ready to apologize to Desha?" He knows what I am talking about. (He's probably been watching us ever since Desha ran to me.) But he is in a bad mood. He frowns or pouts or says, "no." I look at him for a moment, then tell him that I'll apologize for him.

I go back to Desha. "Steven's not ready to apologize," I tell her. "Can I apologize for him?" Desha agrees; she's only three or four, and has no reason to think this plan is at all odd. So I say, "I'm sorry I took that thing. I'm in a bad mood. I don't know why I'm in a bad mood. Maybe tomorrow bad moods won't make me rude. But today my bad mood made me rude and I took your thing. I'd rather be friends than have your thing. If I give it back will you forgive me and be my friend even though I'm in a bad mood?" Desha agrees.

I go back to Steven. "Everything's better," I report. "You and Desha are friends again. It's still her turn with that thing."

And that's the end of the problem. Steven immediately is acting friendly and sharing. Desha too. They are only three or four, and are proud of doing what's right, having friends, and sharing. These are much more important, rewarding, and enjoyable than having a thing. Anyone can have a thing, but not just anyone can apologize so nicely, share so well, and be such good friends.
Unfortunately, now I'm a minister and that trick does not work any more. I think. Fortunately, everyone in the congregation is such a wonderful person filled with God's Spirit, so I have not had to mediate any conflicts that would have provided opportunity to check if I could still do vicarious apologies.