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Parenting Help: How to Teach Your Children to Say "I'm Sorry"

Updated on September 17, 2012
Lily Rose profile image

I am a mom of two beautiful girls (10 & 12). We love to read, play, cook, shop and have fun together. I love to share great products/toys.

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. 

my girls
my girls

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.

Some of the above information was summarized from a great article that I saved from years ago out of Parenting Magazine, in addition to the my own experiences.

Comments

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    • chuckandus6 profile image

      Nichol marie 

      7 years ago from The Country-Side

      Great advice my kids were taught when they started talking and fighting lol I love the magna doodle picture too

    • Lily Rose profile imageAUTHOR

      Lily Rose 

      7 years ago from A Coast

      "Say it with your eyes and your heart" ~ I like that!!

    • profile image

      Bethany Culpepper 

      7 years ago

      Thank you for this great information. I often apologize to my kids! I also try to teach them to give meaningful apologies. "Say it with your eyes and your heart."

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 

      8 years ago from Georgia

      Excellent advice! This is soooo important for kids - and some adults - to learn.

    • Lily Rose profile imageAUTHOR

      Lily Rose 

      8 years ago from A Coast

      I'm sorry to hear that your environment was challenging growing up. You're right, apologies can be meaningless, which is why a child has to realize that they did something wrong before they can learn to really apologize; they need to learn the meaning of an apology, not just the words.

      Thank you for commenting, NateSean!

    • NateSean profile image

      NateSean 

      8 years ago from Salem, MA

      Of course in my family apologies can be very double edged. I've learned from my mother, a person who will manipulate events so that she turns out to be the good guy in everything, whether she is or not, will apologize for something to your face but then tell other people it's your fault.

      Unfortunately I learned very on that apologies are meaningless unless you actually feel like you've done something to apologize for.

      I'm just glad your children are growing up in an emotionally stable household.

    • Lily Rose profile imageAUTHOR

      Lily Rose 

      8 years ago from A Coast

      Thanks for the lovely words, 50 caliber. You're right, these days 6 kids is a "herd" and I don't know how anyone does that - my two are plenty! I hope your daughter enjoys the article and thanks for visiting.

    • 50 Caliber profile image

      50 Caliber 

      8 years ago from Arizona

      Carlos you sir are a freeking idiot. You must have zero ability to understand what you've read.

      This was a great hub on a good subject.

      I get to be "Gramps" and watch as my daughter raises her 6 kids. In this day and age I consider that a "Herd". She often gets frustrated. She is finally understanding that the kids have the ability to form their own thoughts about things at a young age. I will be forwarding this to her.

      Lily Rose you have done "large" keep up the good work and pay no mind to carlos he probably has a deuce in his drawers hehe

    • Lily Rose profile imageAUTHOR

      Lily Rose 

      9 years ago from A Coast

      Carlos - first of all, nice mouth! Second, my daughter appologized for pooping in her pants because she wanted to, not because I taught or forced her to.

      If, perhaps, you bothered to read the entire content of the article you would realize that it is about teaching them to realize when an apology is warranted and the importance of using an apology appropriately.

      Yes, accidents happen - if I were to accidentally bump in to you I would apologize even thought it was an accident. Why shouldn't a child apologize for an accident?

      Lastly, if an old man were to poop his pants (maybe you have experienced this?), I would hope that he would apologize to anyone who may have to help him with clean-up, otherwise he'd only have himself to apologize to, now wouldn't he? Thanks for your insightful, yet pathetic, opinion.

    • profile image

      Carlos Calderon 

      9 years ago

      If a child poops his pants? why should he or she be sorry! it is an accident. When an old man shits his pants, does he say he is sorry? I totally disagree that children should say sorry when accidents happen.

    • prasetio30 profile image

      prasetio30 

      9 years ago from malang-indonesia

      we can't now teach directly, we have to teach them little by little. We give support to them.find simple case and it can be apply.

    • profile image

      webcoachbill 

      9 years ago

      this is excellent, you just got another fan. I will recommend this to others in education and care settings.

      Nice one!

    • Lily Rose profile imageAUTHOR

      Lily Rose 

      9 years ago from A Coast

      hmmmm

    • glassvisage profile image

      glassvisage 

      9 years ago from Northern California

      I think that you hit the point when you explained that children need to understand what it feels like to be wronged, and how much better it can feel to get a "sorry." I think it could also be interesting to read a Hub about parents learning how to say "sorry" to their children :)

    • Lily Rose profile imageAUTHOR

      Lily Rose 

      9 years ago from A Coast

      Thanks Aqua & DoodleLyn - I'm really enjoying it here at HP and am thrilled to have been nominated - especially for this article, which is close to my heart since it involves a conversation with my "big girl" that I'll never forget!

    • DoodleLyn profile image

      DoodleLyn 

      9 years ago from Upstate New York, USA

      Very nice hub, Lily Rose! My four year old granddaughter is learning the concept of apologizing. I will definitely share this hub with my daughter. Very well written and great information. Congratulations on your hubnugget nomination. You got my vote!

    • Aqua profile image

      Aqua 

      9 years ago from California

      Wow! Nice hub and really well written. Congrats on the nomination - you deserve it!

    • Lily Rose profile imageAUTHOR

      Lily Rose 

      9 years ago from A Coast

      Thank you so much Ripplemaker - I am touched that you want to share my hub with your preschool teachers. I agree about the importance of our kids seeing their role models behaving the way we are telling them that they should and always strive to teach by example. I feel so very honored having been selected as a Hubnugget Wannabe.

    • ripplemaker profile image

      Michelle Simtoco 

      9 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      Lily Rose, what a beautiful hub you shared here and most esp. the time you also allowed yourself to apologize. Children learn best from example and that was simply wonderful. In our preschool, we also strive to teach the kids how to say sorry and I would like to share your hub to our preschool teachers. Thanks for writing this one!

      And oh one more important thing, I'd like to congratulate you for being a Hubnugget Wannabe! This link will explain more: http://hubpages.com/hubnuggets10/hub/The-Road-To-P...

      Enjoy the Hubnuggets as we all continue to teach our kids the art of saying sorry. :)

      -Ripplemaker and the Hubnuggets Team

    • Lily Rose profile imageAUTHOR

      Lily Rose 

      9 years ago from A Coast

      Thank you for commenting - I'm glad you agree. I just hate it when I see a parent try to force an ingenuous apology out of their child - that does no one any good. We have to try our best to teach children the concept of, or meaning behind, most things we do - not just the actions.

    • Herald Daily profile image

      Herald Daily 

      9 years ago from A Beach Online

      I agree with Megs - good hub.

      Also, I agree with what you said about remaining neutral if a child balks at apologizing. I've seen parents get very insistent by way of hollering or spanking a kid to get them to apologize. I'm not sure that does anything good at all, especially if they're tired (the kids) or they really aren't sorry.

      If you're a little kid and thought that all you were doing is reclaiming a toy, you probably think you're in the right. Guess that's part of the age/understanding thing.

      Oops, I'm suffering from run-on, it seems. I'll stop now.

      Good luck in the HubNuggets contest!

    • megs78 profile image

      megs78 

      9 years ago from quebec

      Good hub! Apologies are important, and especially important to remember that they go both ways. I had a special moment with my daughter not too long ago as well when I needed to apologize for yelling because I was stressed (but had nothing to do with my daughter), and we were both close to tears. It was an incredible experience for both of us because we both became very human to eachother. What I mean is, she realized that I make mistakes, and I realized, or remembered rather, what it feels like to be a kid and be yelled at. Thanks for that.

      megs

    • profile image

      EdenvaleShoppes 

      9 years ago

      You are true!! Good tips.

      Thanks

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