“Sorry” – How to Teach Your Kids to Apologize

We have all done it, peered down over our 4/5/6/7 year old and uttered those words

.. and of course .. will they say it?  and when they do say it, it often sounds meaningless and can therefore feel pointless .. or is it?

The text books would have us believe that up to the age of about 7, children find it very hard to take the viewpoint of others, empathy is a skill still in its infancy and children at this age can still be very egocentric.  Others would say that children as young as 4 can develop empathy and know when they have done wrong by others …  so, who are we to believe?

We have given this some thought and wonder if it really matters what the experts think, surely we know our children best and what is important is the way we ask or expect a child to say sorry?  What do you think?

Sometimes we know when our child is sorry – a red face, a quivering lip .. Is it then right to force them to squeeze out the immortal words?  Does that achieve anything, or is it meaningless?  Is it better to force the words out or to let it be?

What could be a more positive response, a more emotionally intelligent way of dealing with this?  Well, we could let our kids know that their behaviour was wrong, that it had a negative impact on others and that there is an alternative and help them think of that.  We could firmly but gently reinforce the message that in our family when we hurt others we apologise and stay sorry.  We could teach the message of forgiveness when others say sorry to us, and show how we say sorry to others ….

An apology gives us the opportunity to openly discuss and resolve conflicts.  When we graciously accept an apology in front of our children, we are teaching them how to be selfless and how to occasionally swallow one’s pride in order to end conflict with a loved one.  In fact, forgiveness is an essential part of the equation surely?  Once we say sorry, it is nice to be forgiven and to be able to move on.  By forgiving, we give up the blame, now that can’t be all bad – no blame culture, yes please!

Often we get caught up in expecting an adult response from children, a polite sorry, and yet so often these responses are beyond a child’s capabilities.


– It’s just as important for parents to say

to our partner and to our children when we get things wrong, as it is for us to teach them the importance of apologizing.  We all know how children mimic what they see – even when you wish they wouldn’t .  So, give them something positive to mimic and you will teach them many valuable lessons, including


.  Lead by your positive example.


– So often we focus on the things we need to apologize for and we forget to pay attention to the things we’re doing right.


–  I’m sure each of us knows someone who is constantly apologizing for one thing or another, even it it’s not warranted.  When over-used, saying

” can lose its authenticity.  Teach your children the importance of saying sorry by helping them to use it with meaning.


– Sometimes situations get to a point where neither person can say

because the disagreement has gone on for so long – or one or both of you don’t even remember what the argument was about.  Re-evaluate whether or not it’s worth spending your energy holding onto your anger.


– When you receive an apology from your children, let them know that it is accepted.  Apologies are important, but simply learning to say

is not enough.  Learning to graciously accept an apology is just as important as the apology itself.  Most importantly, by accepting the apology, we are teaching our children the power of forgiveness.


– When children are forced to say they are sorry, they learn it’s more important to say you’re sorry than to tell the truth.  They learn that saying a few insincere words easily dismisses people and problems and that they do not have to take responsibility for their actions.  They also learn that there’s no need to right a wrong.  Just say you’re sorry, even if you don’t mean it, and everything will be fine.


– Teach your children to make amends and take responsibility for their actions.  So, if your child has just thrown their food on the floor, get them to clean it up, or if they are very young, get them to just pick up one piece.


– Don’t take sides, place blame, or ask who did what.  Instead, ask children –

Don’t let saying sorry lead to feeding negative behaviour.  Sometimes young children in particular will do something

to get your attention.  Don’t kill yourself extracting a sorry, but go back to the

or use distraction techniques for minor infractions designed to gain your attention!  Use praise in young children.  When young children show they are sorry for having hurt a friend or sibling, reward them with praise.  For example, give them a pat and say