Admitting when you are wrong and asking for forgiveness is difficult for some adults. Imagine being a kid and trying to understand these concepts. Young children act and react impulsively, sometimes leading them to insult or hit someone else, and often they don’t even realize that they did anything wrong. It’s up to you to help and teach them how to apologize sincerely.
Kristina Chance, licensed mental health counselor and registered play therapist, works primarily with children in her private practice, The Play and Wellness Center. She explained that children from ages 5 to 9 are still very “black and white” in their thinking simply because their brains are still in the early stages of development. She advised parents to let their children know, even if they do not think they did anything wrong, that they still hurt someone or something.
“Because of that hurt, there is something to ‘repair,’ whether it be a relationship, feelings or situation, and apologies help repair or make amends for the action,” said Chance. She added that the more practice children have apologizing, the more natural it becomes.
Even with practice, there will still be those times when the apologies do not seem sincere. Your child may yell or flippantly say “sorry” because he knows it is what you expect. Use this time as an opportunity to add a little more creativity to the apology.
“Some parents use scripts to help teach children to make a sincere apology and help them connect it to their behavior,” said Chance. “Others require apology notes or letters so there is a little more action required by the child. This is helpful because it is more than a ‘quick sorry’ to get out of trouble.”
Marcia Ise has two children, ages 4 and 6. When they hurt one another, she has her children hug and recite, “God gave you to me to love and protect.” Sometimes they do this without her even prompting.
Tiffany Scott, mother of three, said that her children will sometimes apologize without prompting as well. “The 2-year-old will hurt her sister by accident and immediately hug and say ‘I sowwy’ before I say anything,” she said.
Helping your child develop qualities such as consideration, authenticity and empathy takes time. The best way to teach your children how to be kindhearted people is to model it.
“Parents need to be aware how they are being empathetic with their children and others around their children,” said Chance. “Also, children need help connecting the dots. They are present-minded beings so we typically need to help them see how past events affected current or future events.”
For example, if your child yells at a classmate on the playground, help him be aware of how his actions have affected others. Did the other child cry? Did your child get in trouble? Do other kids refuse to play with him? Use these teachable moments to teach your kiddos to apologize and look outside of themselves. And don’t forget to use your empathy skills toward him. Remember, you are his most important teacher!
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Chance recommends using books to foster children’s awareness of others in relation to self.
“Stand In My Shoes” by Bob Sornson helps show empathy to children and the internal reward that comes from being aware of others.
“Have You Filled a Bucket Today?” by Carol McCloud illustrates how we impact others’ self-esteem and mood along with our own.