The Sorry Plane is based a true story, created from the imagination of my 4-year old daughter, Madeline. It took its first flight following a heated argument between my two children over a popped balloon. Ten years later I asked Madeline how she came up with the Sorry Plane. She told me, “All I know is I didn’t want to say sorry and it was the first thing that popped into my head.” I am thankful to Madeline who was ‘on board’ with sharing this story and I am still full of wonder at the power of a 4-year old’s imagination. 

The idea that young children fight with each other is not unusual, especially as they become more mobile and wilful in their actions. Ironically, an online search for strategies to deal with sibling conflict often leads to conflicting strategies and perspectives. This isn’t overly helpful for parents who find sibling conflict provocative. Parental protective instincts and emotions can easily rise to the surface when one of their children get hurt, despite the instigator also being one of their children.

The approach I took to helping my children through their disagreement in The Sorry Plane was as a result of my work with Gordon Neufeld, an internationally respected developmental psychologist, Director of the Neufeld Institute, and co-author of the best-selling book, Hold Onto Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More than Peers, with Gabor Mate. Based in developmental science, the Neufeld Institute aims to make sense of children to the adults who are responsible for them through an integrated, attachment-based, and developmental approach created by Gordon Neufeld. His theoretical model is drawn from many disciplines – neuroscience to developmental psychology – and provides a road map to understanding how human maturation unfolds from birth to adulthood as well as how we can also fail to psychologically mature.

Illustration by Zoe Si

I was fortunate to discover Gordon Neufeld when my children were young, and it has been this developmental-relational approach that has guided my parenting practice ever since. As a developmentalist, and Faculty member at the Neufeld Institute, my focus has gone to creating the conditions for healthy development. This involves focusing on strong attachments with my children and working to preserve their caring hearts. Both of these areas (and more), are laid out in my first book Rest, Play, Grow: Making Sense of Preschoolers (or anyone who acts like one).

We all want to raise socially responsible children but it was only when I heard Gordon Neufeld say “you can make a child say sorry but you can’t make them feel remorse,” that it occurred to me what we really want is caring. When I reflected on current child-rearing practices in this light it became obvious that we encourage children to give caring performances that are devoid of true caring. These practices make a mockery of what a real apology should be or feel like. 

Gordon Neufeld first coined the phrase, “Do you have any sorries in you?” which I used with my children as told in The Sorry Plane. The phrase is meant to cue a child to pay attention if any caring emotions are present. It ensures that when a child apologizes it is from a place of true caring and not a fake performance devoid of true meaning. 

Part of my motivation in writing The Sorry Plane is due to a concern that our children are losing their caring feelings at an alarming rate. Part of the challenge is that we are trying to teach children about their feelings without anchoring them to their actual emotions. Empathy and social responsibility involves more than words and caring performances, it is about growing our children up so they are inclined to do the right thing even if no one is looking.  The Sorry Plane is about preserving our children’s caring spirits and protecting the vulnerability that comes with caring for another person or thing.

When it comes to raising kids it is often true that we don’t know what to do in the moments when frustration arises in them and in us. I know that if we can keep two things in sight – the importance of right relationships and soft hearts, we will be able to steer safely through these impasses.

The Sorry Plane is ultimately a story about how relationships are the home of the human heart and I hope it brings you as much joy and enjoyment as it has in our home. 

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