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Get kids in a room together and trouble is sure to follow. Whenever a child misbehaves, many parents’ natural response is to insist that their child apologize for their actions. The idea is that apologies teach good manners and force children to take responsibility for their actions. But many experts now say that forcing your child to say “I’m sorry” doesn’t do much of either.

“Forcing a child to apologize does not teach social skills,” says Bill Corbett, a parent educator, author, and producer/host of the parenting TV show Creating Cooperative Kids. Young children don’t automatically understand why they have to apologize, and if a parent forces a child to say they are sorry, “It could delay the child’s natural acceptance” of apologizing.

In addition, insisting on the apology will do more to embarrass your child than give him or her a lesson on empathy, says Allyson Schafer, a psychotherapist, parenting expert and author of Ain’t Misbehavin’. “Step into the child’s mindset and emotional state. You can imagine that any empathy that they were feeling because of their wrongdoing just flew out the window as their parents put the spotlight on them and their screw up, which is now on public display.”

The result is usually an insincere apology and nothing learned by the child. Instead, parents should model appropriate behavior instead of turning it into a showdown, says Howard J. Bennett, MD, a pediatrician, author, and clinical professor, George Washington University School of Medicine. “Make eye contact with the victim and say something like this: ‘I’m so sorry, Henry. We don’t allow hitting in our house. I don’t know why Charlie did that to you.’ You should ignore your child for a moment while you make sure that Henry is feeling better. Children learn by experiencing the consequences of their actions. In this example, you ignored your child and gave positive attention to the one who was mistreated.”

And if your child engages in this type of behavior repeatedly, you should warn him or her that they will have to leave the park (or wherever you are) if it happens again, says Dr. Bennett. “It’s best to pair consequences with the action they are designed to discourage. For example, it’s more effective to go home (and stop the fun activity) rather than taking away dessert later that day.”

Takeaways

  • While insisting your child apologize after doing something wrong seems like a good idea, many experts say forcing it has a negative effect.
  • Young kids often don’t understand why they have to apologize, and forcing it could delay the child’s natural acceptance of apologizing.
  • Insisting on an apology in the moment also sets your child up for embarrassment, and can result in a battle of wills between parent and child.
  • Instead, model good behavior and pair consequences with the action they are designed to discourage if it is a constant problem.

References

  1. Huffington Post. Don’t Force Kids to Say They’re Sorry.
  2. Allyson Schafer. Why Parents Shouldn’t Force Their Kids to Say “I’m Sorry.”
  3. Yahoo Shine. 5 Things Parents Shouldn’t Say to Their Kids.

Comments

  1. Very interesting, I used to think it was good and ok to make her apologize but I began to notice that she started saying I’m sorry about 50 times per day, it was her answer for everything. Also, she thought if she said the words I’m sorry then whatever had occurred was ok because she said the “nice words” Great read, love Bundoo 🙂

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  2. I agree with the commenters who are saying that modeling appropriate behavior seems to be the best for young kids. My kids respond better and are more willing to say it on their own when I model what to do in a situation where there is a disagreement.

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  3. I completely disagree… These words are ones they will “naturally” learn through use. Also, consider how they should learn the habit of “excuse me” etc when expelling gas from either end. Learn the habit, and the proper use and meaning will eventually come natural. Manners and respect have become uncommon in child rearing today because of popular belief that these are naturally occurring rather than taught.

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  4. If you apologize to your child when you are wrong (which I have done many times) you have a right to expect an apology from your child when he does something he isn’t supposed to. It teaches them manners.

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  5. Interesting article. I think it is important to teach hiw to apologize early on. Simply saying sorry isn’t enough. Eye contact & body language must also show sincerity. For young kids, teach them to recognize why their behavior was wrong & what they should have done instead.

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  6. Interesting approach

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  7. Children are not stupid…If they are at an age where they understand, explain to them why it is important to apologize and take responsibility for their actions that hurt others. I agree, do not force an apology, however its important to address the situation with the little offender and let him or her know it is not acceptable. Be wise when getting information from so-called experts. I see the disasters when kids do not learn the importance of an apology. They never learn to take responsibility and be open to change bad habits (in this case–not apologising) ..Lots of therapy later on when they start forming relationships. Strange how one so-called expert differ from the next. Parents do use commonsense.

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  8. I most certainly think that all children from a very early age should say th words “I’m Sorry” It humbles a child & teaches them to be mindful of others. Society is becoming weaker by th day about making their kids do things they don’t want to do or may not so on their own. I make my kids do it if they are in th wrong & sometimes when they aren’t because it teaches them to be th bigger person & may be teaching th one in th wrong a valuable lesson as well.

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  9. I agree. Even before children are ready to apologize we should model for them the appropriate things to do when someone is wronged by our behavior. Into adulthood there is the potential to unintentionally offend or wrong someone, though hopefully less frequently. 🙂 Like Dr Lincoln suggested, empathy is the whole point. Also, having a quick dialog about how the other child may have felt helps develop this level of understanding.

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    1. I find your point about the practice of manners being as important as the reason for apologizing to be a very good one!

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    2. “As they get older it also teaches them to recognize when they have done something that they shouldn’t have.”

      You say that as if you can’t teach them that without forcing them to make an apology that they don’t mean, which only teaches them to be insincere and to apologize because they’ll be punished otherwise, rather than because they mean it.

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  10. This man may be right about forcing apologies but I will continue to do so. I do feel that this is a way to teach young children how to be respectful but I do make sure that my four year old understands why she is apologizing before she does it. In younger children I can see how this is ineffective but I think that four year olds can understand why they are apologizing and I have hardly seen my daughter become embarrassed when she has to apologize to her friends or her sister. Just my opinion though.

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