Should You Force Your Child to Say Sorry?

Don't force a child to apologize
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If your child hits his brother, grabs his friend’s toy, or calls you a mean name, should you force him to apologize? It’s common for parents to try and teach their children that saying “sorry” is an appropriate way to begin making amends. Forcing a child who doesn’t want to apologize isn’t necessarily a good idea.

The Purpose of the Apology

The reason for an apology is to show that you’re feeling remorse for your behavior and you feel bad that you hurt someone else.

So wouldn’t forcing a child to say he’s sorry when he doesn’t regret his behavior defeat the purpose?

Saying sorry won’t conjure up feelings of remorse for a child who doesn’t feel it. It also might not help make amends. Siblings or friends who have been on the receiving end of a “forced” apology are likely to sense the lack of feeling behind the sentiment.

Forcing Kids to Apologize Can Backfire

Letting a child off the hook for his misbehavior as soon as he apologizes can send the wrong message.It teaches them that they can simply make up for their behavior by saying a quick, “I’m sorry,” even when it’s not heartfelt. It can inadvertently encourage a child to think apologies make his behavior acceptable.

Kids who are forced to apologize may say they’re sorry to avoid consequences - not because they mean it. But, it’s important for kids to understand that their behavior hurts other people – even when they apologize.

Saying sorry to a sibling for breaking his toy doesn’t fix the toy. Apologizing for calling a friend “stupid-head” doesn’t make it okay that he said that.

Sometimes parents don’t allow kids to have their privileges back or to resume their activities until their child has apologized. But, that can teach kids that apologizing is about getting out of trouble, not about trying to make amends with the victim.

How to Handle Apologies

Teach your child to apologize without making it mandatory. Instead, take a proactive approach to apologies and eventually, your child will be motivated to apologize on his own. Here are some strategies that will gently encourage your child to say he’s sorry:

1. Show your child how to apologize. Rather than tell your child to say he’s sorry, show him how and when to apologize. Role model how to apologize and teach your child that saying sorry also means “I’ll try not to do that again because I don’t want to hurt you.”

2. Use restitution to make amends. Help your child make reparations that go beyond just words. For example, if he breaks his brother’s toy, make him use his allowance money to buy him a new one. Or if he hits his sister, make him loan her one his favorite toys for the next 24 hours. These types of reparations can teach your child to accept responsibility for his behavior.

3. Talk about the other person’s feelings. Have a conversation with your child when he’s calm about how his behavior impacted the victim.

Avoid lecturing but instead, ask questions and see if he can identify how his behavior may have hurt someone else’s feelings.

4. Role play alternative strategies. When your child hurts someone – either physically or verbally – teach him what to do differently next time. He may benefit from learning anger management skills so he doesn’t hit when he’s angry or he may benefit from practicing impulse control strategies so he doesn’t lash out when he’s not getting his way. Role-playing can help him identify alternative options so he can make a better choice in the future.

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