Parents often try to teach their kids to say “sorry” by insisting they say it, but forcing your child to say sorry never teaches genuine remorse or regret–especially if your child is upset and doesn’t want to.
Parents who take this approach may:
- believe that’s the best way to teach this important lesson,
- worry that if they don’t, their child will grow up to be inconsiderate or without conscience or compassion, or
- feel worried about what other parents think and feel pressured to do something to repair what their child has said or done.
I get it! And I agree that it’s important for kids to learn to take responsibility for their actions and make amends when needed.
Making your child say “I’m sorry” may seem to make some logical sense, but if you want your child to apologize with genuine sincerity, you should never force them.
Children learn to say they’re sorry when:
- They’re old enough to understand what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes,
- They’ve had it role modeled regularly (seeing you say sorry to others and to them when you’ve made a mistake or inadvertently said or done something hurtful), and
- They’ve been treated gently and with empathy when they make mistakes, because emotional safety keeps them connected to their heart. They’ll feel (emotionally) safe enough to admit a mistake, and they’ll notice others’ feelings. Once they’re old enough to understand another person’s perspective (usually early school age), they’ll understand that they hurt someone, and they genuinely feel bad.
That’s what you want – their genuineness.
When it’s genuine, they’ll do it consistently and authentically from their hearts, not because they feel they have to, or to manipulate a situation.
So if your child has hurt someone, either accidentally or because they’re angry, what do you do instead? You soothe them, comfort them, and if necessary, help them regulate their nervous system.
This doesn’t spoil them–it teaches them empathy. (See my other post on this topic for more details on what to do.) Comforting them also creates enough safety for them to be willing to admit they’ve made a mistake.
Children don’t learn to say they’re sorry and genuinely mean it from being forced to say it.
They learn from having it role modeled, and from being treated empathetically when they’ve made a mistake or lost control. That’s how they learn to extend genuine regret to others.