What are the do’s and don’ts when it comes to teaching our kids sorry, and how can we encourage them to eventually use it without prompting from us?
When to Introduce
Sorry is a must to start introducing in the toddler years, and many parents will find that they have started to teach their infants sorry without even realising it. We bump their nose we say “sorry bubs” or if they hit us with their little waving arms we say the words for them, “oh, sorry mummy”. They are hearing it even before we are expecting them to say any words. This is the first step to teaching sorry and ultimately helping our children to travel towards understandings of sympathy and empathy.
The Sorry and the Well Meaning Parent
We all want our kids to have friends, good manners, be in tune with the feelings of others and to admit when they have made a mistake. Unfortunately for kids, parents can tend to confuse the teaching of these elements with the making of children to say sorry, mean it or not. Sorry is often expected by adults from kids, and if not heard, the “sorry” battle begins often deflecting from what the original incident was about.
It’s true that at times we are more concerned about the other parent and their reaction to the situation, so we feel the weight of responsibility on us to get our kids to say sorry. We want to be seen as the good parent, the one who teaches manners and does not simply make excuses for their child’s behaviour. This is understandable, but can leave us with mixed feelings of satisfaction and uncertainty from our “sorry” demand. But that’s only half the story. How do kids feel when they are made to say sorry and does it actually teach them anything?
It is important that we teach our kids others have feelings, but the demanding of a sorry does not achieve this. As parents we expect kids to say sorry all the time, but as adults we rarely say sorry unless we mean it. When you force a sorry you simply end up with a sorry that is hollow, full of resentment and an embarrassment. There is nothing wrong with telling your child to say sorry. But standing there demanding a sorry is not the way to go. We can say to kids, “it would be nice if you would say sorry to Jack, it might make him feel better”.
Role modelling “sorry” is the best way to teach it. Sometimes kids are sorry, but saying it is just too difficult. This is also the case in the adult world! We can all think of someone we know who even as a grown up finds the sorry hard to say. But there are many ways to show sorry. Drawing a picture, writing a letter, giving a flower, a hug, or even helping to fetch the icepack. You can say to a child “when we make someone sad its nice to say sorry”, but demanding a sorry, you simply end up with a hollow word which the child learns is an annoying one.
If your child does say sorry at your encouragement, simple quick praise should be given. A sorry can be embarrassing, and you making a big deal out of your child’s agreement to say it, can make them even more conscious than what they already are.
But I Said Sorry!
Some children will quickly say sorry to avoid getting into trouble. Siblings are great at this, and at times we don’t know what to believe when our child quickly announces on our arrival at the scene, “it was an accident!”. But accidental or not, we need to encourage our kids to right the situation along with the sorry. We can make the mistake of acknowledging the sorry of the offender, telling them not to do that again, then sending them on their way as if the sorry is a pass go and collect $200. If there is something that can be reasonably done to assist along with the sorry it is a greater teaching tool. If something has been broken, can the child help in fixing it? If someone is knocked over at the park, then the child that knocked them over, accident or not, should aid in helping them up. Kids need to pay the bill with a sorry wherever they can. Think about the adult world, if you are careless and break something in a shop, a sorry is certainly a nice gesture to the owner, but you still need to pay the bill! The same approach should be taken with kids. We want them to learn that with actions come consequences, and sometimes that entails a “sorry”.
Always talk to your kids about the consequences of their actions. This is not only at the time of the incident, but more importantly all the time! For young children it should be happening regularly throughout the day. Talking about consequences helps to make kids more mindful and self thinkers, and with these two skills encouraged, we help to create a more thoughtful child in less “sorry” situations.
Children who are put on the path of learning that their actions have consequences by adults highlighting this connection for them, can find the “sorry” just a normal part of life rather than something that can create anxiety and to be feared. With the “sorry” a normal part of your child’s vocabulary, your kids are far more likely to say sorry without hounding or even prompting from you. But the most heart warming thing about the no hounding or prompting of sorry, is that it is more meaningful and more likely to come from the heart of the child.