Forcing Kids to say, “i’m Sorry,” is a waste of Time. try this Instead

How to Teach Kids to apologize

When I embarked on my journey as a conscious parent, one of the initial challenges I faced was becoming comfortable apologizing. Apologizing for hurting someone, for example, always felt shameful and unnatural. It wasn’t because I didn’t feel remorse or that I didn’t want to atone for my misgivings, but I was raised to be above reproach. So to do something that required apologizing would be an admission that I had something shameful, and shame was a feeling I knew all too well. 

I knew these feeling stemmed from my childhood, but it wasn’t until I became a parent myself did I make that connection. And the reasons were simple:

  1. My parents and caregivers never apologized to me.
  2. I was always told when to apologize, and typically it was done under threat.

Apologizing meant I was in trouble. And I carried this feeling well into adulthood. Once, while I was in my early 20s, I can distinctly recall a close friend saying, “Do you ever apologize for doing anything wrong?” The answer, of course, was no. I didn’t apologize because the feelings of shame that accompanied apologizing were too triggering. Suffice it to say, most of the friendships I had in my teens and twenties ended. How can a relationship work if one party is incapable of a simple apology?

teach kids to apologize 2

So when I decided to begin the process of putting an end to generational patterns of harm, I knew early on that this was something I had to sort through. I didn’t want my kids to feel that there was anything shameful about making mistakes and admitting it. Moreover, I wanted them to have secure and healthy relationships, which cannot happen if we don’t teach kids to apologize. But how?

How can we teach kids to apologize without shame? What’s so bad about telling a child to, “Say you’re sorry?”

Let’s dive into these questions, shall we?

Telling a child they should apologize or that they should be sorry doesn’t create empathy, it simply evokes feelings of shame, a useless emotion that has the ability to create within your child feelings of inadequacy and self-hate. Our goal is to build our kids up to be their best selves. We do no want to tear them down in the process.

Building Character: 3 Ways To Teach Kids To Apologize

Visual representation of teaching kids the importance of sincere apologies"

1.Lead by Example: Our kids are always watching us, often mirroring the behaviors they witness in adults. Therefore, the first step in teaching accountability is embodying these qualities ourselves. I want my kids to be better than me, so I’ve made a conscious effort to acknowledge my own mistakes openly and take responsibility for them. Whether it’s admitting when I’ve forgotten a promise or apologizing for a harsh word spoken in haste, I strive to model the behavior I hope to see in my children. By demonstrating accountability in my actions, I create a safe space for them to do the same.

2. Encourage Reflection and Ownership: Accountability begins with self-awareness. Encourage your child to reflect on their actions and the impact they’ve had on others. When a situation arises where they may have caused harm or disappointment, resist the urge to lecture or scold. Instead, engage them in a conversation that fosters empathy and understanding. Ask questions like, “How do you think your friend felt when you took their toy without asking?” or “What could you do to make things right?” By guiding them to recognize their role in the situation and take ownership of their actions, you empower them to make amends authentically. See here for an example:

3. Practice the Art of Apology: Offering a sincere apology is a skill that requires practice. So I make sure to apologize to my kids and to others in front of them. I want them to know there is no shame in getting it wrong and holding ourselves accountable when we do.

Check out this example of how to teach kids to apologize:

We’ve also seen this play out in a now viral Tik Tok series, posted by mom and Tik Toker, AfroLatina93. In the three-part series, we watch as the TikToker’s daughter shops and puts together a gift basket for a little girl she has been bullying.

@afrolatina93 I always tell my kids that you never know what a person is going through at home and what they have to deal with everyday. You are to always be kind to everyone because how you treat someone can impact their mental health in either 2 ways! Not only that but everything you have can be taken away just as fast as you received it! Humble yourself! ❤️#fyp #fy #humble #nobullies #bullyfreezone #alllove #forgiveness #trending #teachthemyoung #lessonlearned #lesson ♬ Angel Numbers / Ten Toes – Chris Brown

While I have some concerns about how Mom chose to teach her child to apologize, I still think Mom deserves to be applauded for trying to do the right thing. Bullying is a serious allegation and all too often when a parent is told their child is being harmful, the parent becomes defensive, refusing to take any corrective action against their child. This mom, however, jumped right into action, and for that I’m sure the offended child and their parents are grateful.

However, as parents, we have to be mindful of the messages we are sending our children when we seek to direct them on the right path. We want them to know that taking accountability doesn’t have to be accompanied by gifts. 

In this instance, the gift-making and the gift-giving were filmed, perhaps creating pressure for the wronged child to accept a gift they may or may not be ready to accept. I hate to say it, but the entire ordeal comes off as manipulative and forced, even though we can all see that Mom’s heart was in the right place. She meant well, going so far as to even gift the bullied child a free hair appointment. But the message we want to teach our kids is that we don’t have to buy anyone’s forgiveness. In fact, apologies accompanied by gifts often do more harm than good. 

parent teaches child how to apologize

In a 2023 study, researchers from Wageningen University in the Netherlands found that people were less likely to accept apology gifts compared with spontaneous gifts, and were less likely to appreciate them. Gifts to apologize were perceived as strong negative reminders of a transgression and were more likely to be regifted.

The study published by Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services, revealed, “When recipients receive an apology gift, they evaluate the gift and giver-recipient relationship more negatively compared to regular products, to receiving regular gifts, or towards verbal apologies.”

why forcing your kid to say Im sorry doesnt work

To be clear, reparations can and should be made when possible. For instance, If a child destroys someone’s property, you should be encouraged to not only apologize, but to also repair what’s been broken by replacing it.

Instead of imposing apologies, we should create an environment where children understand the importance of acknowledging their mistakes and the impact they have on others. Through consistent practice, teaching kids to apologize will become second nature, fostering healthier relationships built on mutual respect and understanding.

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