Teaching Kids Heartfelt Apologies
by Kathy Slattengren, M. Ed., Priceless Parenting (sign up for monthly parenting newsletter and receive 20+ printable charts for kids and parents)
(listen to article read by the author)
Do you remember hearing someone give an inauthentic apology? Perhaps it was the tone of their voice or the fact they tried to shift the blame to someone else. This type of apology makes the situation worse, not better.
Heartfelt apologies express true regret along with a desire to make amends. Authentic apologies strengthen relationships and build trust. Learning how to give heartfelt apologies is an important skill for your kids to develop.
Learning to Make Amends for Mistakes
What do you do when your child’s behavior causes another child to become upset? Many young children find themselves in this situation after grabbing a toy away from another child. Do you intervene by handing the toy back to the child who had it first? Do you tell your child “Say you are sorry”?
These are your child’s earliest lessons in how to make amends for mistakes. If you force your child to say “I’m sorry” when they really are not sorry, you are teaching them how to suppress their true feelings and lie.
How else can you guide your child in making amends with the other child? You might describe what you saw saying something like “You took the car from Emily. She’s crying. What can you do to help Emily?” Wait for your child to decide what to do.
Your child might need some ideas on how to help Emily. You could suggest:
- Giving the toy back and asking to use it when she’s done.
- Getting her a tissue.
- Asking if she’d like a hug.
- Asking her how you can help.
When your child does something to help Emily, you can comment on the effect it’s had on her. You might say “You gave her back the car and she smiled.”
Apologizing After The Fact
Lynn, the mother of 6 and 9-year-olds, described going over to a family friend’s house. Her kids, Jamie and Aiden, played with 7-year-old, Ana, while the moms visited. They didn’t pay too much attention to the kids since they were playing fine on their own.
After getting home, the other mom texted that Ana’s expensive Lego set that took her weeks to build with her dad had broken. Lynn was looking for suggestions on how to best respond.
The first step is to talk to her own kids about what happened. She needs to gather more information to figure out how to best address the situation. What did they know about what happened to the Lego structure? What ideas do they have on responding to this?
Her kids explained they had been tossing a ball around which accidentally hit the Lego structure. Their friend told them not to worry because she would put it back together later. Lynn’s kids suggested they could help Ana put it back together.
Lynn texted her friend back, “Wow, I am sorry this happened! Jamie and Aiden are happy to come over and help her put it back together. Would Ana like their help tomorrow?"
Lynn worked together with her kids to figure out a way to make amends. She avoided becoming defensive. She did not say the Lego structure should have been put somewhere that it wouldn’t be bumped or knocked over. She did not say that the nature of Legos are that they come apart. Any of these responses would have put a dent in their relationship!
Creating an Authentic Apology
Tyler is a teen who considers himself a caring friend. However, one day he offended one of his close friends by thoughtlessly using a racial slur. This friend immediately walked away and no longer wanted to hang out with Tyler.
Tyler felt horrible about what he had said and the impact it had on his friend. He decided to write a letter apologizing to his friend. He expressed his regret and explained how he would never do this again. He asked for his friend’s forgiveness.
Heartfelt apologies are not easy. Tyler had to reflect on his behavior, understand why he spoke those words and decide how to act differently in the future. While his friend may or may not accept the apology, Tyler has done something to try to repair the relationship.
Making and keeping friends is key to your children’s happiness. Misunderstandings and mistakes between friends will happen. When your kids can give heartfelt apologies, they have an essential skill for maintaining their relationships.