When you say nothing at all

Ian is learning how to apologize.

I got a phone call from his art teacher yesterday. I've never met her but she sounded like a quirky, frazzled art teacher. She said that she was concerned about Ian's behavior. That he was loud and if she told him to lower his voice, he just laughed. She also specifically said that after he finished his project yesterday he chose to paint the entirety of his hands blue, "which, as I'm sure you know, is not part of the lesson."

I talked to Ian when he got home and told him what she had told me. He said that he must have been laughing at what someone told him while she was talking to him. I reminded him that it indicates he wasn't listening to her and that had to make her feel frustrated. Then I told him to go write her a letter. I didn't specify what should be in the letter, letting him work that out on his own. His first version said:

“apology” version one

“apology” version one

Dear Miss Mozafarye (sic),

I'm sorry I talked loudly. I'm sorry I painted my hands and I'll try not to do it. You told my mom I painted my hands, that was *true*. You told my mom I talked loudly, that was *true*. But you told my mom that you told me to talk quieter and I *laughed* at you, that was a *lie*.

I never remember laughing at you when you told me to be quieter. If I'm gonna stand up for my actions then you might as well not tell my mom stuff I didn't do. I might've done it and I don't know but I don't remember doing it.

- My sincere apologies, Ian.

I got to the underlined "lie" and threw the paper on the kitchen floor. I told him that was bullshit. That wasn't an apology or a genuine statement in any way. If I read that as his teacher it would not make me feel heard or understood or respected. Try again. Fix it.

This was his revised version:

apology revision

apology revision

Dear Ms. Mozafari (sic),

I'm really sorry that I painted my hands and that I made you feel disrespected. I didn't mean to make you feel disrespected on purpose. I'm really sorry I made you feel like I was laughing at you. I don't remember laughing at you but if I did I'm sorry I did that and I didn't do that on purpose.

You are a great teacher and I'm sorry I made you feel disrespected. You don't deserve to take care of over 100 students and be disrespected by them. You are a good art teacher and should not have to be talked over and laughed at. I will do better next week. I promise.

- My sincere apologies, Ian

It reminded me of the situation where Person A gets upset by something Person B did or said and Person B tries to convince Person A that they're wrong for being upset. As if that were going to make anything better.

I told him to put himself in her shoes. Think back to the way she acts in class. Does she seem happy? Calm? And are there things he and the other kids are doing that are contributing to her mood? Are there things they could do to help her versus make her day harder? It takes so little on the part of Person B to dramatically improve the experience for Person A.

So yeah, I made him write a letter. And I made him write a new one after the first one was awful. But I'm pretty sure he figured it out himself. I’m proud of him.

Our evening continued in a lovely fashion. We made dinner and delivered leftovers to Grandma. We bought science project supplies. We got Starbucks treats. We read Christmas books. We snuggled. Ian didn't have to give up any part of himself to be good to his art teacher.