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Teaching your child to apologise – and mean it

Teach your child that a sincere apology must prioritise the other person's feelings and demonstrate remorse.

Along with words like ‘please’ and ‘thank you,’ your child should also learn the words, ‘I’m sorry’. Learning to say sorry can be challenging for children – no matter their age – especially when they don’t believe their acts were wrong or were at fault.

Saying sorry is not a “quick fix”

Parents need to help their children understand that apologising is not just a simple way to end an argument, dispute, or fight. Your child should understand and comprehend how their behaviour has affected others. A genuine apology must include an admittance by your child that they have done something wrong. 

Teach your child when it is appropriate to apologise

Teaching a young child the difference between right and wrong can be challenging. However, it is critical to begin instilling these two notions at an early age. 

Between ages three and five, most children begin to understand that they have made a mistake, when they make one. They are also familiar with the word ‘sorry’ and when and why it is used.

You can start by teaching your child the nature of an apology and emphasising the need to apologise when they make a mistake by asking them how they would feel if another child did something similar to them.

A meaningful apology is about understanding what someone else is feeling – also known as empathy. Practising empathy helps children understand what an apology is for. 

Be a good role model

If we want our children to apologise – and to forgive – we need to do so ourselves. Whether you snapped at your child because you had a difficult day at work, inadvertently burnt their chicken nuggets in the oven, or forgot to pack their water bottle for school, make your apology clear and heartfelt – and ask for forgiveness.

The ingredients of a sincere apology

A good apology is not muttering sorry under one’s breath. Teach your child different “components” of a good apology:

  • Encourage your child to make eye contact when apologising
  • Ensure that your child puts in words what they did wrong, e.g. “I am sorry for snatching your toy from your hands”
  • Explain to your child that how they say sorry is just as important as the word itself. They need to consider the right tone of voice when apologising

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