How to Teach Your Child to Apologize

17 June, 2020
Apologizing usually isn’t an easy task, even for adults. In this article, discover practical tips to teach your child to apologize.

If you’re a parent, it’s often a very complex task to teach your child to apologize. And not exactly because children lack empathy but because they apologize in unexpected, and, sometimes, incomprehensible ways for adults.

Children are empathetic by nature. How many times have you seen your child with tears in their eyes when they’re watching a sad situation in a cartoon? They’re very compassionate beings but don’t act like adults nor do they follow socially stipulated rules.

As a parent, one of your tasks is to teach your children to behave according to social norms. For this reason, in this article, we’ll talk about how to help them apologize.

How to teach your child to apologize

An angry boy.
To apologize, your child must take responsibility for their actions and understand other people’s emotions.

“Apologize for hitting them.” “Apologize to me right now and never talk to me like that again.” “I’m waiting for you to apologize.” Have you ever heard yourself saying any of these or similar phrases? You surely have!

Sometimes, words come out of your mouth without you even thinking whether you should say them or not. Do you believe that you’re teaching them to apologize by forcing them to? The answer is no. A forcefully murmured “apology” teaches your child nothing but to obey their parents.

The ultimate goal of teaching forgiveness is not to get your child to speak the expected words but to take responsibility for their mistakes. And to do this, they need to understand why what they did was wrong.

1. Help your child calm down

Most of the time, the situations children need to apologize for get out of control because they get angry. Now, demanding that your child apologizes at that time can be counterproductive for several reasons:

  • The child won’t understand why they should apologize
  • It’s possible that they may get even angrier
  • They won’t learn anything from what happened

Instead, take a deep breath, approach your child, and withdraw them from the place where the conflict occurred. Allow your child to distance themselves from the situation and calm down. You can help by talking to them, always with patience and without demanding that they apologize.

This article may interest you: Teach Your Children How to Control Their Emotions

2. Analyze the situation with your child

A family talking.
Talk to your child about the situation and let them freely express themselves.

When your child calms down, it’s time to analyze what happened. What exactly happened? Let your child tell you their side of the story and let them express how they feel. During conflicts, emotions are very important and, in fact, are the trigger for the child’s actions.

3. Encourage empathy to teach your child to apologize

Now that you know what happened and why your child reacted that way, ask them how they would have felt in the other child’s place. You can even remind them of a similar situation they’ve experienced. The idea is for your child to put themselves in their friend’s shoes so that they understand their mistake.

You don’t want to miss this article: Is it Possible to Forgive Yourself?

4. With your child, analyze what they could have done differently

“If you could go back in time, what would you change about what happened?” This exercise allows your child to think of other ways to resolve the conflict. Although it’s true that brainstorming won’t solve the current situation, it’s a good way to learn to manage emotions for the future.

5. Ask them how they can make the other child feel better

A family hugging.
An important aspect that parents tend to forget is that they need to set an example.

Let your child choose how to apologize. Saying “sorry” sometimes isn’t what children need or want. Perhaps your little one prefers to give them a hug, invite them to play with them, or give them a drawing. The important thing here is for your child to learn to take responsibility for their actions in some way.

A good apology should express why the child is apologizing, not only for what they did but for hurting their feelings, and suggest a way to fix the problem. For example: “I’m sorry I hit you, I know it hurt and I won’t do it again. The next time I get mad, I’ll try to talk to you instead of hitting you.”

Finally, to teach your child to apologize, you must set an example! Every time you make mistakes or react badly, you need to apologize. Apologizing isn’t a weakness but a strength. As parents, you must lead by example because your children learn based on what you do.

  • Kennedy-Moore, Eileen. Smart Parenting for Smart Kids: Nurturing Your Child’s True Potential. Jossey-Bass,2011.
  • McCready, Amy. The Me, Me, Me Epidemic: A Step-by-Step Guide to Raising Capable, Grateful Kids in an Over-Entitled World. TarcherPerigee, 2015.
    Dr Sears.
  • Teach Children to Apologize With These 5 Tips. https://www.askdrsears.com/topics/parenting/discipline-behavior/morals-manners/5-ways-teach-your-child-apologize