When did “I’m sorry” become a meaningless action?
Thanks to nine-year-old Braydon, little Emily’s Barbie lost her head while getting ready for an evening out. But even as Braydon dutifully – and immediately – apologizes to Emily and her doll, the stolen glances he’s giving his video games leave the Nintendo getting more eye contact than anyone else in the room. How to teach kids to say sorry?
The fact is that while forcing kids to apologize in the heat of the moment often makes parents feel better, it does little to help children truly understand the effects of their misbehavior. Instead, put the “sorry” on standby and — when everyone is calm and collected — follow these guidelines:
How to teach kids to say sorry…and mean it
- Lose the lecture about misbehaving and replace it with questions to help your child understand her emotions and actions. Start with, “What were you feeling when you ripped John’s homework in half?” This helps to teach that she should take responsibility for her emotions and that while it’s okay to feel mad, sad or frustrated, the action that resulted was not. Next, tie that feeling and action to the effect it had on the other person. “How do you think it made your brother feel when you tore up her homework?”
- Pass on punishment and instead focus on solutions to make amends by asking “What could you do to make it right?” A verbal apology is a great start, but since children best learn through action, it’s good to pair it with an act of kindness such as helping fix what was broken or drawing a fridge-worthy picture for the injured party.
- Role-play the “re-do” and give your child the opportunity to make a better choice next time he has the urge to decapitate Barbie. “If you could do things over, what would you do differently in this situation with Emily?” Give your child time to think and then brainstorm constructive ways to handle his emotion. Role-play them together. Your kids will be more likely to use these positive tactics next time if they’ve had the chance to practice them first with you.
Although it may be hard at first, putting some much-needed time between the misbehavior and its apology will lead to a considerably more sincere “sorry.” You’ll find your kids better understanding their actions, taking responsibility, and developing the empathy needed to learn from their mistakes. And that’s worth the wait!