Taking the blame for something they have done is not easy for your child. Children are not always sorry for the things that we consider worthy of an apology. Even when they do feel sorry, to say “I am sorry” is tough for a child.
Teaching your child to say sorry is a gradual process. It is not just about apologizing. It is about teaching them to undo their mistakes, take responsibility for their actions and also to consider the feelings of others.
For this teaching to take place, first try to understand the reasons they are hesitant to say sorry.
- They are in the “me” phase: They are five years old. They do not consider right and wrong. They do not even realize that their behaviour was wrong.
- They lack empathy: They are not old enough to put themselves in others shoes. Empathy is a social skill they are in the process of developing. For the most part, another child’s pain does not bother them.
- They feel embarrassed: Even when they do realize that they have made a mistake, they do not want to apologize and draw attention to themselves. They might be concerned about what others think and are reluctant to own up and apologize
Once the reason is obvious to you, try one or more of the following steps to resolve the situation.
- Keep the explanation simple. Do not lecture. Tell them that they need to apologize if their behaviour has hurt or bothered someone. Help them develop empathy. Point out the consequences of their behaviour. “Your friend is crying because you pushed them. How would you feel if someone pushed you?”
- Do it with them. If, you feel they are hesitant to do it because of the embarrassment involved then accompany your child when they go to apologize. Help them start the conversation.
- Give them an opportunity to make amends. Let them know that saying sorry was the first step. There are other things they could do to make the other person feel better. Like make them share their toys, ask the other child if they are feeling better.
- Do not ignore the original behaviour. Saying sorry will not help if the original behaviour remains uncorrected. Remind them about the rules and warn them about consequences if they were to break them. Follow through with the consequences.
- Do not make saying “I am sorry” a free pass. Some children might be willing to say sorry just to get out of trouble and escape consequences. If they are saying sorry too easily then it is meaningless. Point out that saying sorry helps only if they are sincere about it and are open to changing their behaviour.
- Stay neutral in a fight: This is when both the affected parties feel the other party should be the one to apologize. The best way out is for both of them to say sorry to each other. This calms them down and helps them move on.
- Model good behaviour: Apologize to them when you make a mistake. This helps them understand that everyone apologizes. It is a sign of strength not weakness. A child who has been apologized to finds it easier to say sorry.
The focus should be on enforcing the rules and hopefully, your child will have less to apologize for as they grow older. However, right now just know that it is okay to coax a “ sorry” out of them once in a while.