Should You Make Your Kids Say Sorry?

  • Parents Only

By: Zoe Crane, ellaslist

As parents we want our kids to grow up to be kind, thoughtful and polite human beings. Pre-schoolers can struggle with this at times, but insisting they say sorry when they have done something wrong (again!) can actually make them less kind and thoughtful in the long run.

Pre-schoolers and toddlers have less empathy

Parenting author Sarah Ockwell-Smith recently argued in an article for the Huffington Post that young kids have an underdeveloped “theory of mind” which basically means that they have trouble understanding the viewpoint of others. It can be difficult for young kids to understand how others feel. These empathy skills usually develop around the time kids start school, but toddlers and pre-schoolers are less likely to feel genuinely remorseful if they hurt or upset someone. This doesn’t make them bad or mean, it is just a normal stage in childhood development.

Sorry seems to be the hardest word

Ockwell-Smith goes on to say that forcing a child to say sorry when they do not feel remorse only forces children to lie. They will begin to associate saying sorry with “getting out of trouble” rather than understanding they have hurt or upset someone and actually regretting their actions.

What should you do instead?

Of course, this doesn’t mean that we should stand by as our children hurt or upset others then walk off merrily. She suggests modelling the behaviour instead and trying to get the child to understand the other person’s feelings.

Giving the example of your own little darling shoving another child and making them cry, she suggests you start by apologising yourself to both the child and their parent so your little one can see how it is done. You should then take the child away somewhere quiet to explain that the other child is crying because it hurt when they were shoved. You can follow this with an explanation of how your child should have handled the situation.

Playing the long game

Don’t expect it to work straight away, she says. But by acting this way rather than insisting on an apology that is less than heartfelt, you are helping your child to understand the feelings of others, which should lead to more considerate and kinder behaviour as they grow older, ands isn’t that what we wanted after all? It may be hard when you see your child behaving badly, but it could be the difference between a child that learns to say sorry and a child that learns to be sorry.

ellaslist wants to hear from you, do you think young children should be forced to say sorry?