Children do not perceive mistakes the same way we do. They are oblivious to most social norms and cultural taboos. However, children have been found to have an understanding of right and wrong from as early as 19 months old^. I believe they can empathize from a much earlier age (depending on the emotional nourishment they received as infants).
The article below discusses how parents sometimes force their children to say “I’m sorry”. It’s a double mistake: first of all, the child is humiliated and secondly, the child doesn’t even understand the reason why the apology is made, hence damaging his or her understanding of the concept of being sorry:
Around the same time I read this article, I also came across this beautiful poem about children. I think it is very much in the spirit of what the article says. Enjoy!
By Kahlil Gibran
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.”
I’ll end this post with this wise quote I found today. Again, something that just seems to fit right in:
“Respect the child. Be not too much his parent, but also his pupil…”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson