Teach Your Kids to Apologize in 4 Easy Steps

apologize
Image via Katie Hurley

I'm big on apologies around here, but only when the apology has meaning. I've been on the receiving end of an empty apology – the kind someone gives just to say they did – the kind that lacks meaning. I know that empty apologies don't actually help anyone feel any better. An apology without meaning, after all, is just a group of words.

My kids know that it's important to take ownership in your role in a negative interaction. They know that even if someone else starts the negativity, if they feed into it they play a role. They know that they need to consider their own actions and do their part to work through the situation.

They also know they don't need to do it right away. To force an immediate apology is to encourage an empty apology – one that doesn't include consideration. To add meaning to an apology, kids should be given the opportunity to discuss the situation and think about their feelings first.

All too often parents cue their kids to say sorry and move on. While an apology is a nice gesture, a quick turnaround doesn't allow kids to process their emotions and learn from the situation. In fact, they are likely to continue the behavior in the future because they didn't actually evaluate the events that triggered the negative interaction in the first place.

Try these four steps to help your child learn to apologize from the heart.

daughter
Image via Flickr/ Donnie Ray Jones

Review:

Kids get upset when they argue with their peers. That's perfectly natural. Even if your child was the one to start the argument, he's allowed to have feelings. Chances are your child carries around some internalized feelings and some small trigger felt big in the moment.

Review the event that result in negative emotions. Break it down and talk about what happened and how each child responded. Resist the urge to place blame or problem solve. This is a time to review the who, what, where, why of the situation.

{ MORE: What to Do When Your Child Struggles to Make Friends }

mother talking to child
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Discuss.

Talk about feelings. Start with your own child. Ask him how he felt during each stage of the negative interaction. Try to help your child remain focused on his feelings and what those feelings mean to him.

Once you've evaluated your child's feelings, it's time to move into empathy. Ask your child to think about how the other child likely felt. Did the other child appear angry, sad, or overwhelmed? Did your child's actions impact the other child?

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Happy African American Father and Mixed Race Son Playing in the Park.
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Role play.

Apologizing can be hard for little kids. Sometimes they feel embarrassed. Sometimes they can't quite find the words to express their feelings. Sometimes they just want the whole episode to vanish from their memories.

Practicing an apology helps kids learn how to make up with a friend while taking into consideration the feelings of their friend. The sample below will help you get started.

I'm so sorry that I said …

I was feeling frustrated/sad/mad about …

Next time I will …

Try a few scripts to find one that feels comfortable to your child, but encourage your child to speak from his heart when he actually approaches his friend.

{ MORE: How Do You Measure a Mother? }

woman and little boy
Image via iStock

Model it.

Chances are you've snapped at someone in your house one or twice or overacted to something once in a while. Haven't we all? When we apologize to our kids, our spouses, and our friends, we set a good example. We show our kids that we all make mistakes and we all need to take responsibility for our actions.

I always apologize to my kids when I mess up. Whether I forget to do something important to them or exhaustion leaves me cranky, I slow down and give them the apology they deserve. Through this, they learn that words are powerful. They learn to think about others and apologize from the heart when they make a mistake. We're all human.

Instead of showing our kids the super parents who manage to do it all, it helps to show them the human parents who sometimes mess up but take care to make up for it.

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Teach Your Kids to Apologize in 4 Easy Steps

Katie Hurley, LCSW is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and writer in Los Angeles, CA. She is the author of "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" and "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World". She earned her BA in Psychology and Women's Studies from Boston College and her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania. She divides her time between her family, her private practice and her writing. Passionate about he ... More

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