How to Teach Kids to Apologise Well

“Say sorry!”

If you’re a parent, you’ve said those words.

And maybe your child mumbled “sorry” and you left it at that.

But is a mumbled apology, while staring at the ground, good enough?

Let’s face it, apologising is not easy. It’s awkward, humbling, and downright hard sometimes.

But just because it’s hard doesn’t mean kids can’t learn to apologise well. It’s a life skill that will serve them well.

So, how can you help your kids learn to apologise well?

Identify the offense

Some kids say sorry just to get off the hook or because they feel forced. They don’t really feel sorry for what they did. A sincere apology comes when a person understands what they have done and the impact it has had on the other person.

Take the time to talk to your child and reason with them until they can see what they did was wrong (provided your child is old enough to reason with and understand what you are saying).

Part of this is teaching what the Bible says, and the other part is teaching empathy.

 “The Bible teaches that we should love each other. Have you loved like Jesus wants you to?” Don’t Bible-bash or make your child feel condemned. Just use the Bible to teach true repentance and forgiveness.

Asking “how would you feel if ______ did that to you?” will help your child put themselves in the other person’s shoes. When they understand this it will be easier to apologise.

Deal with your child’s heart

You don’t want “sorry” to become a reaction, an expected response. You want it to be an act of contrition, of being truly sorry for what they have done.

Find out why your child did what they did. Ask questions that will help your child understand themselves. “What were you feeling when you lied about finishing your chores?”

Maybe they were frustrated or angry or scared. Help your child deal with those emotions. Teach them to become emotionally intelligent so they can manage their emotions in a healthy way.  (Read here on how to help kids process strong emotions)

Remind them that when they have done wrong, God forgives. Teach them how to go to God and confess their sins and receive forgiveness from Him.

Discuss ways to make restitution

Repairing the damage is part of apologising. Ask your child how they think they can fix what they did. Make suggestions. Sometimes an apology will be sufficient but other times your child may need to replace a broken toy, or do something kind for a sibling.

Go with your child

Your child may feel embarrassed or afraid of going to apologise to the person they hurt or offended. Go with them as support, but don’t apologise for them. Talk about what they should say before the time and then if they get stuck while apologising, help them remember what you talked about.

Allow them to feel the difficulty of making a sincere apology. It’s part of life and relationships and the sooner they learn how to do this well, the better off they will be.

Give consequences if behaviour doesn’t change

Apologies don’t mean much if the wrong behaviour continues. Don’t forget to correct the misbehavior that caused the trouble in the first place.

If your child lied, was unkind, or took something that did not belong to them, be sure to follow through and give a consequence for the original offence.

An apology is not a consequence. It repairs relationship but doesn’t fix the original issue. Don’t overlook the reason for the need of an apology.  

Set the example

Last, but not least, your example will teach your children how to apologise well. More is caught than taught. Do you apologise to your kids? Do they see you apologising to your spouse or others? Teach by example!

Elements of a good apology:

When teaching your kids to apologise, make sure these elements are present:

Specific

A general apology is not good enough. Teach your child to apologise specifically:

“It was wrong of me to use your … without asking you first.”

“I’m sorry I lied to you.”

Eye contact

It takes courage to look someone in the eye and apologise, but teach your kids to take the pain and make eye contact. There is no shame in apologising; some awkwardness maybe, but no shame. 

Tone of voice and body language

The tone of voice your child uses can either indicate true sorrow or defiance. The correct tone of voice reveals true sorrow for what they did. In the same way, body language indicates what’s going on in the heart of your child. Folded arms or a sulky expression on their face smacks of insincerity.

Ask for forgiveness

This is often missing from an apology, but asking for forgiveness highlights how the other person has been impacted by the child’s action, and gives opportunity for reconciliation. 

Here’s an example of a good apology:

“I’m sorry for taking your pencil without asking you first” (specific)

“It’s wrong because taking something that doesn’t belong to me is the same as stealing” (acknowledging what was wrong with their action = understanding)

“I won’t do it again” (making restitution – and if they broke something they should promise to replace it)

“Will you forgive me?” (asking for forgiveness)

Healthy conflict resolution involves a good apology. It’s one thing to have the fight, but quite another to acknowledge you are wrong and apologise for it.

For kids to apologise well they must know what they did, why they did it, and understand how it impacted the other person. If they understand these three things plus how to be brave and look a person in the eye, they will apologise well.  

How do you help your kids apologise? Do you apologise well?  

About The Author

Jennifer Lovemore

Jennifer has diplomas in relationship counselling and CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), is a certified SYMBIS facilitator, and is certified in TPM (Transformation Prayer Minsitry). She lives in South Africa, has three grown children, and is married to her best friend – Richard.

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