Apologies: Saying “I’m Sorry” VS. Feeling Sorry

Apologizing is part of becoming socially appropriate. It is our way of accepting responsibility, or blame for injuring another person in some way. You can teach your child to say “I’m sorry”, but it’s another ting to teach him to feel sorry or mean it when he does say it. Children learn through a process. Understanding that a person’s actions have consequences is the basis for this process.

2 to 3 year olds:

  1. It’s difficult for a child of this age to take another person’s point of view. They also don’t know what it means to be responsible.
  2. Offer a short emotional explanation of what the other person if feeling, e.g. “Biting hurts”, “Charlie is sad”.

3 to 5 year olds:

Beginning to understand the concept of an apology. They will sometimes apologize to lessen or remove consequences.

  1. Ask the child what he/she could do to make the other person feel better or is there anything he or she wants to do about what happened.
  2. It’s best to handle apologies after the anger, after the upset children have cooled down.
  3. Help the children involved to identify their feelings, e.g. “You sound really upset!” It’s confusing to a child who is angry to feel sorry.
  4. Kids have their own way of making up.

So . . . how do I teach my child to say he’s sorry and mean it?

  1. First, be a role-model. Genuinely express apologies when it is appropriate to family members and friends.
  2. Listen to your child and acknowledge his/her feelings.
  3. When possible, impose logical natural consequences for hurtful behavior. That is, the consequences should be directly related to the behavior, but not harsh or punitive. E.g. time-out from friends, for hitting a friend.

Remember, requiring a young child to apologize when he doesn’t understand it, can’t take perspectives, or is feeling other things, is only teaching our children to lie and distrust us.