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Teaching Your Child to Apologize

Updated on September 10, 2014
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Rebecca has been a freelancer online for 6+ years. She enjoys writing, editing and being a stay-at-home mom to two beautiful little girls.


A is for Apology

The art of apologizing comes into play at about three years old. At three years old your child has the ability to understand their actions and know right from wrong - to a degree. Your child also has the ability to sympathize with their peers.

From infant to toddler your children have been studying the world around them and have learned the many emotions and actions associated with them. For instance, your child should understand that tears mean sadness, smiles mean happy, laughs mean funny etc. While this may seem like an easy feat for you remember your child is new to the world of empathy and emotions. They live in the moment with a me, me, me attitude. Which is all normal at this developmental stage of life.

Behavior that Calls for an Apology

You invite your best friend and her child over for lunch and a play date. It's late in the day Jr. is growing tired and he hurls his favorite toy truck at your best friends child. Your mortified. Your embarrassed and worry that your child is a bully.

Relax. This isn't the case at all as long as you use this opportunity to teach him a lesson. But head warning, letting it all slide will ensure that Jr. is a future bully on the playground.

Evaluate the Situation

Step back and look at the situation. Chances are high that Jr. is just trying to express himself and is frustrated with the situation at hand.

At this age children are full of emotions. They are wound up tight and can confuse their emotions, thoughts, or ideas. One minute they are excited. The next minute they are sad. All normal behavior for a three - five year old. Inside their little bodies their thoughts are running about a mile a minute and they really have little control over their actions at this point. They know they like playing with their friend but they are growing increasingly tired. Since your child lacks the ability to communicate all their feelings at once they become increasingly agitated and frustrated.

How To Teach A Child To Apologize

Once you've surveyed the situation, ensured the other child is okay, take Jr to a private place and talk with him. When you speak with your child about apologizing make it short and sweet.

"You hurt John, hurting someone else is not nice and makes them sad, you need to say sorry so John will come back and play with us another day".

Try your best to not embarrass him more by insisting he apologize right there, in the situation. He's already upset. He know's what he did was wrong but he was in a whirlwind at the time. If you insist he apologize right there, in front of this victim, you are likely to be met with resistance, and a child that buries their face in your dress, pants, etc. from their it will be a power struggle between you and your child. Inevitably an important lesson will be lost and you will be frustrated yourself.

After the Apology

After an apology it's best to wrap up a play date within the next 30 minutes or so. This is important for two reasons:

#1. Your child needs a break from all the action taking place.

#2. The other child needs time to talk with their parents, to avoid any ill feelings in the future.

Try not to have your child apologize, and then leave immediately after, this leaves the last memories with the other child soured. You want your child to grow from this experience and understand, not have negative feelings about their next encounter with their little buddy.

Help! My Child Won't Apologize

If after speaking with your child you are still met with resistance it is now time to leave. Explain again that hurting someone is not nice and that you will not tolerate it. Accidents happen but it's important that we apologize so we can have friends and people will want to play with us.

Take your child by the hand to the other child and briefly explain:

"I'm sorry Jr. hurt you John, I hope next time we can all play nicely together."

Say your goodbye's and leave or tell the other parent that you think it's best they leave. Drop the subject for a short time span and bring it back up when Jr. is alone, in his comfortable settings, explain to him again about how friends are treated and how bad behavior makes people not want to play with you. Apologizing is a must. Let Jr. take the lead from there.....

Benefits of Apologizing

Remember Your Children Are Watching You.

If you make a mistake, apologize. If you hurt someone's feelings apologize. Never leave a situation, especially when your child is in ear shot, unfinished. Man up and apologize for your behaviors and Jr. will learn that this is how life works.

"Never ruin an apology with an excuse." - Benjamin Franklin


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