Learning to Apologize


Your child gets angry.  Your child hits someone. This is a difficult moment for a parent. What is the first response of many parents?  Apologize!  You must say sorry!

This could create a problem.  This may not be the best approach.  Wait a minute, you are thinking… how can an making an apology be a problem?  Well, you may not agree with me but I will share my thoughts.  You are free to draw your own conclusions.

Let’s go back to the angry child.  When a parent demands an apology from this angry child, do you think it will be sincere?  I argue that if the child is still angry and full of emotion, it will be totally insincere and there’s nothing anyone can do about that.  Feelings are real and cannot be changed; they can only be acknowledged and discussed.  Young children are just beginning to understand the range of emotions they can experience.  Sometimes children are flooded with powerful emotions that flow just like a waterfall.  And the ability to self regulate may not be present yet.

And sometimes, you can even hear how little the forced apology means in the automatic way a child apologizes after hitting someone.  These are the children who have been told to apologize. Many of them will sound very robotic in their “sorry.”  And I’ve seen children who hit others more than once in a day and follow the hit with “sorry” immediately.  Does the apology mean anything?  No.


Here’s my approach keeping in mind that there is not one ‘right’ way to raise a child.

I might acknowledge the angry child’s feelings. I may say something like: “I can see that you are feeling angry.”  I would give the child a chance to calm down a little.  I would find out what made the child angry.  Once the angry child is calm I would focus on the hurt child:  “I also see that your friend is crying.”

I teach children when someone is hurt, we comfort them.  I teach children to start by asking “Are you okay?”  to the child who they have just hit a moment ago.  Quite often the child who has been hit will answer “No.”  It is important for the child who was hitting to realize that this friend is not okay. I encourage that child to look at the other child’s face and point out that this child is crying or looks sad or looks hurt.

Then we focus on how to make a person feel better.  I teach the hitter to ask, “What would make you feel better?”  We talk about how hugs or high fives, funny faces, funny jokes or maybe an arm around a friend might help make someone feel better.

When we as adults make a mistake and loose our cool, we are not proud of that, right?  We may feel ashamed.  I feel children are the same and they need a chance to make up for what they have done so that they can get over the mistake, learn something and move forwards.  The focus needs to be on the solution.

Some things I might say… “Being sorry means making a change. Being sorry means trying to do the right thing.”

Instead of teaching children to make excuses, let’s teach them to make amends, care for each other, look for solutions, take action to correct mistakes and move forwards.





9 thoughts on “Learning to Apologize

  1. I think you cover a LOT more than what we might teach to our children. Your understanding of the human ability to grow expresses what we might try to teach the last about four generations of grownups who have grown up just a little too “entitled.” Let’s teach everyone to not make excuses, but how to make amends! 🙂

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    1. Thank you! I do think of children as being very capable just as adults are. And yes, sometimes I do think the things I am teaching these young children would be very helpful for many people of all ages. The great thing about teaching preschool is we don’t have a curriculum hanging over our heads so we can focus on social skills that can serve children for a lifetime. And now I just want to get up on my soap box and start telling everyone that we need to spend more money on early childhood education and what an impact that could have on the entire world!

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  2. I actually have dealt with this issue through watching the estrangement of my two brothers. One brother kept trying to force the other one to appologize, and he had done nothing he was sorry for. It was a control issue and unfortunate. I love what you wrote.


    1. Thanks for sharing your experience. Hopefully we can teach children early on how to cope with difficult situations like this and help them build relationship skills for stronger future generations.

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