Family Life

Should My Child Say “I”m Sorry.”?

Parent: “Say you’re sorry!”
Child: “I’m sorry.”
Parent: “Tell them why!”
Child: “I’m sorry for taking your book.”
Parent: “Without asking.”
Child: “Without asking.”

Sound somewhat familiar? We’ve all uttered some version of these words when trying to teach discipline and values. We may have told our kids to apologize to each other in our effort to referee an out-of-control situation. But are we wasting our time? Does telling our children to apologize do any good? We know we’re trying to have our child take responsibility for a wrong action and offer a tool to make things right once again.

However, if the child is not truly sorry or is too young to understand it completely, you may start to wonder if an apology is still necessary. Should they be doing something they don’t understand?

To apologize or not to apologize
When a child learns how and when to apologize, they are not only making amends for hurting someone but also taking responsibility for their actions and taking into consideration another’s feelings.
Parents should know that apologies are appropriate, especially if the child violated someone else’s right, hurt someone, or misbehaved. “It is important to garner an apology from them toward the person they offended or if they messed up an area or broke something. They should make good whatever they did wrong because they should restore the environment to the way it was and be responsible,” says Dr. Monique LeBlanc, a clinical psychologist with Family Therapy Clinic of Louisiana, LLC.

After an apology, it sometimes helps to respond to the child by telling them you accept their apology, you forgive them, or that everything is okay. It gives the child a sense of closure and for some, that’s important. It also helps them realize that they infact restored the environment to good.

Teaching a child empathy
Children should consider how others feel because it will help the child understand why they are apologizing for their actions. “It is important to teach the concept of empathy as early as possible so children understand how to put themselves in the shoes of others that they may have offended. We want children to understand that sometimes, unknowingly, they may hurt others,” says Dr. Leblanc.

Talk about feelings with your child and ask them how they would feel in different situations. “We want to try to get the child to think about what he has done and the consequences, and to develop a sense of empathy, morality and how others should be treated,” Dr. LeBlanc adds.

Making it routine
Teaching good manners and demonstrating that behaviors have consequences should start early. It goes back to the golden rule of treating others how you would want to be treated.

“It is important to encourage good manners and insist that children learn to say please and thank you, and learn to write thank you cards,” says Dr. LeBlanc. “If they are not done naturally the child should be sent back into the situation and required to say please, thank you or apologize for not saying those things. Once a child learns it, it becomes second nature,” says Dr. LeBlanc.

When you encourage apologies, you’re helping the child understand their actions, take responsibility, and build empathy toward others.

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