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Beyond “I'm Sorry”: 5 Tips for Making Your Child's Apologies Meaningful

Beyond “I'm Sorry”: 5 Tips for Making Your Child's Apologies Meaningful

Beyond “I'm Sorry”: 5 Tips for Making Your Child's Apologies Meaningful

Teaching kids to treat others appropriately is certainly one of a parent’s trickiest jobs—and learning how to make amends when your child is unkind to another is a big part of that. Circle of Moms member Samantha, makes her daughter apologize after a scuffle with a playmate but she’s concerned that her daughter isn’t really learning the lesson. “She says she’s sorry but I don’t think it phases her a bit!”, this mom reports. 

Samantha is probably right. Forcing kids to begrudgingly issue apologies may make parents feel better, but both kids know that justice hasn’t truly been served with a halfhearted apology. More importantly, you miss the opportunity to help your child resolve the conflict in a more positive way in the future. 

Fortunately, there are several key things you can do to help your child learn a lesson from her misbehavior and guide her future actions, even while making amends to the other child. Once everyone is calmed down from the incident, follow these five steps:


1. Avoid Punishing or Shaming Your Child

When your daughter hits someone or grabs a toy out of another child’s hands, your first response might be to yell, put her in timeout or even give her a little swat on the bottom. The problem is that none of these reactions actually help your daughter learn a lesson—they only make her feel bad about herself and put her on the defensive. Let her know instead that while what she did was wrong, she now has the opportunity to “make it right.”

2. Ask Questions; Don’t Lecture

Rather than giving a lecture that will likely fall on deaf ears, teach your child to process her emotions and take responsibility for her actions by helping her identify and label her feelings. Ask, “How were you feeling before you hit Abby?” Or, for younger kids, say “Wow, you looked really angry before you hit Abby.” Reinforce that while the feeling is okay, the behavior that followed wasn’t.

3. Connect the Feeling to the Action

Help your child learn that her actions have a real effect on other people by asking, “When you felt angry and hit Abby, how did that make her feel?”  This reinforces that angry feelings are okay but what we do with those feelings can hurt someone else.

4. Make it Right

Hold a mini-brainstorming session with your daughter to figure out a way for her to make amends to her friend. A verbal apology may be appropriate if it’s truly genuine and from the heart, but it could be that drawing a picture, sharing a favorite toy or offering a hug would do a better job of making the injured party feel better.

5. Role-play a Redo

Finish your daughter’s important life lesson by coming up with a few more constructive ways to handle a similar situation next time, and then practicing them through role-play. Once she’s comfortable negotiating disagreements with her stuffed animals and dolls, she’ll be more likely to use positive conflict resolution tactics in the future.

Treat each conflict as a learning opportunity, and soon you’ll begin to notice fewer of them. When they do happen, you’ll love watching your daughter demonstrate true empathy as she works to make amends. That means better playdates now—and stronger relationships throughout her life.

Amy McCready is the Founder of Positive Parenting Solutions and the author of If I Have to Tell You One More Time…The Revolutionary Program That Gets Your Kids To Listen Without Nagging, Reminding or Yelling. For easy to implement strategies for happier families and well-behaved kids, follow Positive Parenting Solutions on Facebook.

"Pay It Forward" to a Military Family

Amy McCready is partnering with Blue Star Families in an initiative called “Pay it Forward Parenting.” For every book purchased, McCready and Positive Parenting Solutions will donate an online parenting training course to a deserving military family. For more information on this charity initiative, visit  

Image Source: butupa via Flickr/Creative Commons

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, POPSUGAR.

Join The Conversation
SarahTurbayevskiy SarahTurbayevskiy 5 years
Sorry, but a ten minute monologue from me is going to frustrate my kid and make them ornery. We don't smack/ grab/ pull hair will suffice for that moment. When there is no other distractions is when we talk about appropriate behavior.
hollyvilla38647 hollyvilla38647 5 years
everything my son does and when i say the word "Okay, thats it!" he is full of sorry's and hugs, but then goes right back to what he was doing...
ChelleBryantLee ChelleBryantLee 5 years
The article has merit and within reason I can see aspects of it working for my boy- who I already do encourage to label his feelings rather than just acting out. I do disagree with the insinuation that time out isn't affective. And agree whole heartedly with another mother that when a child hurts another child they need to know what they did is wrong. So many parents are afraid of discipline these days and instead try to be their child's friend. In my opinion kids need and actually appreciate boundaries and consistency. I was witness to one example of this . A child we knew hit another child HARD with a hammer causing a significant lump on the hittee. Now rather than letting that child know what they did was wrong by yelling or giving a consequence that was unfavorable to the child (because their behaviour was unfavorable) they sat them down and talked to him about hitting. Never saying what he did was wrong, gave him no consequence and even gave him some chocolate!! What the?? So what, if this kid wants chocolate again, all he needs to do is hit someone with a hammer!
jenniferhumphrey62371 jenniferhumphrey62371 5 years
what a load of bolony, i can just see it, in the middle of a playgroup my daughter has just smacked the child next to her and there I am asking her "how did you feel when you hit so and so" I can just see the response now....."great mummy she deserved it"!!!!!
JulieDillon JulieDillon 5 years
This is good information. I have been following the steps you say, minus the role playing, which I will start. However, I am having trouble not "making them feel bad" I think when they hurt someone, they should feel bad or shameful about it. Otherwise, the likely hood of it "working for them" continues. My boys are 7 & 10, so old enough to know better. But I take to heart the long term effect it may have on there self esteem.
mansisanghvigardi mansisanghvigardi 5 years
Very very good!
memorytaylor memorytaylor 5 years
I like the draw a picture, but it definitely has to be their idea. I wouldn't want to see a child grow up thinking that every time I hurt someone I give them a gift and it all goes away. At some point they will need to learn that heartfelt emotions expresses through words work far better than the the act of giving. "roses from husbands" are not always an appropriate apology.
CoMMember13616182897418 CoMMember13616182897418 5 years
Impossible to do this with a toddler! Not with my 3 years old!
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