- Education and Science
Parenting Help: How to Teach Your Children to Say "I'm Sorry"
How to Teach Your Child to Apologize
Kids aren’t always sorry for the things we think are worth an apology. And even when they are, many have a hard time saying those two little words, “I’m sorry”. Some kids will blurt out “I’m sorry” too easily, thinking that it’ll satisfy adults so they can get back to playing. That’s not an apology. The way I see it, kids need to understand what it means to apologize. It is a process which involves a lot of patience to teach a child when to apologize and how to make amends for hurting someone, and, of course, you must consider the child’s age. My two year old is not quite there; I think my four year old gets it.
My two year old, however, sure knows how to say “I’m sorry, I’m so, so sorry mommy” when she poops in her underwear – we’re currently potty training!
Kids learn how to consider others’ feelings and take responsibility for their actions when they know how to say sorry. They gain more social skills. They learn how to undo their mistakes.
Teaching Lessons to Little Kids
Teaching the fine art of the apology is not an easy task to take on for any parent. A child has to realize that they did something wrong before they can apologize. I believe this concept begins to sink in around the ages 4-6. Preschoolers still think “it’s all about me”, so they’re not considering what’s right and wrong. This is why parents and/or teachers need to step in and point out to a child when an apology is in order.
With 2 year olds (and under), focusing on enforcing the rules is best – that way if you can get them to learn the rules early, they’ll have less to apologize for later. Don’t try to coax a “sorry” out of a 2-year old – it won’t mean much (tell that to my 4-year old after her little sis just pulled pushed her and didn’t say sorry!).
With 3 to 5 year olds, you should make them understand why it’s important to say they’re sorry, but you must keep explanations simple or you’ll lose them right away. Say something like: “We say sorry when we do something that hurts or bothers someone.” At this age it’s not like they can mentally put themselves in the other person’s shoes, so grown-ups need to help. You can encourage empathy by pointing out how the other child feels – “Look, Jill is crying. How do you think she feels? How would you feel if ____________.”
An important part of any apology is a concrete way to make amends – if Jack pushes Jill, rather than just having Jack say sorry, have him ask her is she’s okay.
Apologies don’t mean much if the behavior doesn’t ultimately change, so remind of the rules and enforce any consequences – “We don’t use bad words in this family. If you want to use bad words like that, please go stand in the bathroom”.
By 6, kids have a better grasp of what’s right and what’s wrong and their capacity to understand how others feel is greater. That certainly doesn’t mean that saying sorry comes any easier to some 6 year olds. They may not want to own up to their mistakes for fear of what others will think of them.
Reacting calmly and positively when your child fesses up to a mistake or bad behavior will encourage him or her to be honest – “I don’t like hearing that you did such-and-such, but it took courage to tell me and I appreciate that”.
How Parents Can Help
There are some options for kids who balk and refuse to apologize:
Stay neutral if you don’t know who is owed an apology. Explain that they don’t have to be at fault in order to apologize. Each child can say “I’m sorry that happened” or something to that effect.
Doing it together with your child is another option. Offer to help – “Come on, I’ll say it with you”. Some kids need some breathing room in order to calm down before apologizing.
Encourage, but don’t force your child to say she’s sorry – that could just make the situation worse and no one would feel good about an apology under those circumstances. It’s meaningless if it doesn’t teach her something.
Often trying in these situations is keeping your own cool! Remember, lead by example (one of my favorite mottos that I tell myself often). Don’t say “Say sorry right now or you’re going to be in big trouble”, try something like “When you find a way to make your friend feel better, you can play with her again.
If the situation warrants, you can take the lead and apologize for your child if she just is too upset or simply unwilling to say sorry. You’ll set a good example for your child and help ease the other child’s hurt feelings. To the other child, say something like “I’m so sorry this happened. Jill and I will be talking about this at home.” Then deal with your child later.
Watch out for the child that thinks she can use “I’m sorry” as a free ticket out of trouble. As soon as they sense that they’ve done something wrong they throw the “I’m sorry” out there and expect everything to be just fine. When this happens, it means that the child has not learned more than the words. Point out that apology helps, but only if she’s sincere about doing things different next time.
Saying Sorry to a Child
When you say you’re sorry to your child, it teaches them that apologies aren’t just for kids. It could strengthen your relationship with your child and make it easier to talk about feelings and regrets.
I wrote this hub today after I found myself making a genuine apology to my 4 year old daughter. We were out shopping for materials to create a “good choices jar” (whole other story - trying new discipline technique!) and out of the blue she says to me “I don’t like it when you call me little.” I asked her what she meant and she said “You always tell people that I am little for my age and I don’t like that because I’m big.” To explain, she is 4 and has always been around the 25th percentile for height and weight on the growth charts. My 2 ½ year old is just about 4 inches shorter and only 2 pounds less (she’s always been around the 75th percentile) – she’s not fat, but she’s dense – the older is skin and bones and always has been. EVERY time we go out people ask if they’re twins and I usually say “No, they’re 18 months apart, so they’re close!” If the conversation continues I say “Yeah, she’s little for her age (the 4 year old) and she’s big for her age (the 2 year old), so they are very close in size and everyone thinks they’re twins.” Little did I know that she hears EVERYTHING (I’m starting to catch on to that lately!) and my poor baby was feeling hurt and I had no idea. I started to tear. I stopped, got down on her level and told her I was so very sorry. I told her that she is just perfect and is growing more and more every day. I told her that I never meant to hurt her feelings by saying what I did, and I will not say it any more now that I know how it made her feel. I also told her how proud of her I was for telling me how she felt. We hugged tight and I could just tell that my apology made her so happy. It was a special mommy-daughter moment and I’ll never forget it.