How many times have we made our kids say “sorry”? How many times have they really meant it? How often do we really mean it when we say we are sorry?

Many times, in the moment of hurting someone, children have zero empathy. They are not sorry and could not care less about making restitution. Also, the child may truly not understand that what they did hurt the other person. After all, everyone knows that siblings always deserve what they have coming to them, right? So why be sorry?! I thought by making my son say he was sorry; I was teaching him to be a caring person. But that is not the case.

There is nothing more powerful in this world than when someone tries to heal a relationship with you. They take the steps to understand how they made you feel; they are remorseful, and then they do what they can to make things right. Can we teach empathy and remorse to our children, or do we hope they grow in maturity in this area? How do you handle it when your child is not sorry for what they have done? The process I share was in part taught to me by Psychiatrist Dr. Cornell of Madison, WI.

Apologizing, and meaning it, is a skill that can be learned. It starts with a child learning to own their behavior and acknowledge the effect it has on others. Over the years, I have refined the steps into a written format and a verbal format.

The best medium for an apology is verbal. The parts are as follows:

  1. Owning the behavior.
  2. Building empathy.
  3. Restitution.

The conversation would look something like this: “Tom, I pushed you, and you fell. How did that make you feel? How can I make this better?”

If a verbal apology is difficult or unwelcome by the hurt person, a written apology is the next best thing. For written apologies, the parts look slightly different:

  1. Owning the behavior.
  2. Building empathy.
  3. Problem Solving.

The letter itself is the restitution piece. It would look like this: “Tom, I pushed you, and you fell. I bet that hurt. Next time, I will walk away when I get angry.”
Instead of having children say things they do not mean, teach the skill of apologizing well. This way, the child will learn to do the right thing even when they do not feel like doing the right thing. It will also help them realize how their actions affect others.

In the area of apologizing, well, you’re about to start winning!

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