Q&A: Training Children How to Apologize

Parents can train their children’s conscience by helping them understand how they have hurt someone.

By Dennis and Barbara Rainey

How can we teach our children to show that they are sorry when they have done something wrong?

Barbara: From the time they begin to talk, children need to learn the words, “I’m sorry.” You can’t force the right attitude—that’s something that has to come from within. I think most kids want to please mom and dad, and they regret doing something wrong. When you teach them to express sorrow, I think they’ll eventually begin to feel remorse as well. I think heart-felt sorrow is a character trait that is built into a child through your training.

Dennis: We need to realize we are training our children’s conscience. They need to understand how they have hurt someone. I think sometimes we move to forgiveness and reconciliation too quickly. Children are selfish, and we need to show them how their words or actions make others feel.

When a child hits his brother or excludes his sister, you need to allow those siblings to express their feelings. Then quiz the child who committed the offense and ask, “Do you understand? Tell me how that made her feel when you treated her that way.” As much as possible, take them into the experience of the other person.

Barbara: Let’s say your 5-year-old son takes his 3-year-old brother’s toy and hits him on the head with it. First, I’d tell the 5-year-old, “I’m expecting more from you because you’re older.”

Then I’d make him say to his brother, “I’m sorry I took your toy and hit you with it. Would you forgive me?” He needs to apologize specifically for what he did. If he just says a general “I’m sorry” he doesn’t really acknowledge what he did. Then I’d tell the 3-year-old to say, “Yes, I forgive you.”

This is a pattern that our children will use the rest of their lives as they relate not only to friends, but also to God.

Copyright © by FamilyLife. Used with permission.

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