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Teaching Kids to Say "I'm Sorry"

Why I Haven't Taught My Kids to Say "I'm Sorry"

Here's a post from our partners at BabyCenter! Every week, we bring you the best parenting and lifestyle stories from the experts at BabyCenter, including this post about saying you're sorry.

While I was growing up, my stepdad had no idea what he was doing when it came to little girls. And who can blame him? Girls are a very tricky thing, especially when they are merely inherited.

In my younger years (probably ages 5 to 10) I was continually forced to say I was sorry for things that I found completely absurd. No, I am not sorry I don't want to play with my baby sister. And no, I am not sorry I forgot to turn my bedroom light off . . . even if it is the 10,000th time.

Related: I'm Afraid to Be Alone With My Own Kids

My stepdad's attempt to drill manners into me probably had the reverse effect. I became resentful and had a hard time saying "I am sorry" even when I did feel remorse for something. This lasted well into my teens.

Fast forward over 20 years, and I am a very pleasant, well-mannered adult (I think, anyway). Being a completely normal American, I had vowed not to screw my kids up the way my parents had done to me. I had hoped that I would raise my children to be darling little angels without the slightest bit of coercion. My children aren't gnarly little monsters by any means, but a recent conversation with a friend has brought me to the realization that I really dropped the ball on this one.

Our discussion went something like this:

Me: "So Katie, Dean will be 2 in October right? He must be starting to talk now?"
Katie: "Well he can say the important things like 'please' and 'thank you.'"
Me: "Maybe you should come stay at our house for a few weeks."

While I was trying to play it cool with my 'ohhhh yeah cute . . . love it when kids say please and thank you' attitude, I was thinking 'oh sh*t, sh*t, sh*t, damnit, f@ck.' My kids are way older than hers, and I haven't even thought of teaching them this.

After thinking about this long and hard, I am not even sure how to go about teaching my kids manners. Is it best to lead by example and to not force it, or is it something you should make them do — more of a "fake it till you make it" type of thing? Hoping the appropriate emotion follows the trained action one day.

Please moms, I would love your expertise. What worked for you?

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Join The Conversation
shawnnlively73341 shawnnlively73341 3 years

You still don't get it. I didn't say it was teaching your kids to say something without meaning it...THAT IS WHAT I MEAN BY ACCEPTING PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY.

Please try to comprehend what you are reading, as you don't appear to be at this point.

PamelaKowalski PamelaKowalski 3 years

I've raised my boys with manners, love and empathy so they care about other's feelings and respect others. I didn't teach them to spit out phrases of 'I'm sorry' or 'excuse me' without actually meaning what they say, which I've noticed many parents do with their children and then think they're kids are covered in this area. A child simply saying they're sorry without meaning it, just to keep out of trouble, or a child shouting 'excuse me' while they muscle through people is worse than saying nothing at all. The phrases are meaningless when the child is insincere. It's the behavior and what's inside that really counts. Teaching kids empathy and to be kind are the most important things. Manners are just social icing on the cake. The tone of your posts towards the author seemed very unkind, is all I'm saying. We can disagree with others and still be polite.

AlexisRumore AlexisRumore 3 years

My oldest son was raised saying please and thank you and I made him apologize when it was warranted. He didn't have to apologize for not doing something- but when he did do something to someone he had to say he was sorry. He is a very well mannered young man now and I constantly get compliments about how pleasant he is to be around. My youngest is just learning to talk and he will be raised the same way.

KristyS1388771706 KristyS1388771706 3 years

I believe it's extremely important to teach children manners, specifically please, thank you, and I'm sorry. I, too, despise this generation of entitled brats and realize the way my parents raised me (I'm mid-40s) is best. Saying please and thank you is common courtesy that everyone deserves. It also tends to get a more positive response than when not said. Saying sorry, though, requires a little more explanation. As my kids get older, I'll help them distinguish between being sorry for their action and being sorry about the reaction. Either way, it's good to apologize. I vote for the "fake it 'till you make it'" approach.

shawnnlively73341 shawnnlively73341 3 years

Ms. Pamela, you must be one of those parents, since you don't understand. I am sick and tired of daily seeing the product of parenting as the author of this article parents. She is actively teaching her kids that, not only should they NEVER have to take personal responsibility for ANY of their actions, she's teaching them that if they are pushy enough, they can get their own way, regardless of rules, regulations, and restrictions.

When this generation of parents is done raising kids, the world, in general, is screwed. We'll have a bunch of whiny, entitled brats arguing with each other because no one knows how, nor wants to take responsibility for their actions. So, do me a favour. Keep YOUR kids honest, and teach them how to accept personal responsibility for their actions, whether it be accidentally pulling someone's hair, or purposely taking their toys. They'll be better off in the long run.

PamelaKowalski PamelaKowalski 3 years

Teach kids empathy and how to be sincere when they use manners, especially when they need to apologize to someone. An insincere apology from someone feels worse than none at all. It's best not to shame a kid into manners. Let them see how appreciated good manners are and they will start using them sincerely. I would give my boys little reminders when needed and this was all they needed to make sure they thanked people when appropriate. When taught right, along with how to care for others, good manners aren't forced or off the cuff, when they say it, they mean it.

PamelaKowalski PamelaKowalski 3 years

Well it sure doesn't sound like YOU were raised with any manners! Sheesh!

JacquieBrown1389456641 JacquieBrown1389456641 3 years

The most important thing you can teach your kids is manners. I'm not sure where you thought you were going to get with the I'm not going to do what my parents did attitude with this matter. If you were made to apologize for leaving a light on and you didn't like to then common sense would be to remember to turn the light off when you leave the room, not vow to not teach your children manners. What kind of stupid logic is that! Plain and simple you lead by example and have expectations that they do it as well. You will have to sit them down and have a serious chat and (yes) apologize to them, saying you dropped the ball and missed out on an important part of being a good citizens. Simply put.....if your given something you say thank you......if you want something you say may I have some blaa blaa please.........if you have done something I don't care what it is to hurt or upset another person you say I'm sorry......and like you if your children don't like to listen and don't do as their asked for example turn a light off in their room.....use logical consequences......Eg if you won't turn your light off maybe you can spend a day without a light.....thats what I would do. Your not doing your children any favors by letting them become spoiled little princesses.

MarlenaMontagna94258 MarlenaMontagna94258 3 years

I think they can be taught WAY earlier than 7 or 8 and should be. A 4 or 5 year old can have his or her actions explained in a simple way and required to apologize. Yes small kids are fundamentally focused on themselves and don't think outside the box, so to speak, but it's OUR job as parents to intervene and help them understand. And the sooner the better to get started.

MarlenaMontagna94258 MarlenaMontagna94258 3 years

Okay yes, lead by example of course. It's counterproductive to tell a child to use manners that you yourself don't use. But for Gods sake yes they have to be instructed and taught! They're children. It won't just magically come to them one day. Jeesh. Get on that lady.

ShericeAlbrecht ShericeAlbrecht 3 years

Lead by example! I always use please and thank you when speaking to my children, rather then barking commands. "Please shut the door" "please pick that up" "thank you for doing x,y.z." I think by showing respect you teach respect. I have a 5 year old and a three year old, and I'm contantly told how amazingly polite my kids are :-). As for the apoligies, its hard to teach a young child to apoligize because they aren't really capable of feeling remorse. I think around 7 or 8 they are ready to learn how to apoligize and be taught how their actions are affecting others. Just my opinion! Every child is different, as is every family dynamic.

shawnnlively73341 shawnnlively73341 3 years

Ah, yet ANOTHER parent who's kids I'll be seeing at University here in the future, both entitled brats who've been handed the world, and not held to expectations or even taught simple manners.

Well, you lazy woman...I'm not going to thank you, nor am I going to apologize to you for calling you a lazy, no good, entitled brat of a woman who thinks that everything should have been handed to her, therefore you are now raising a couple more brats exactly like yourself.

START NOW, LADY. Try to get your entitled little angels to realize that you fucked up by NOT teaching them how to be socially acceptable individuals. I realize this is going to be difficult, because you don't think that you should have to thank anyone for anything, or ask permission for anything, so your way of thinking is going to totally need to change...better yet, why don't you and your entitled children move to a deserted island where the rest of us won't have to deal with your laziness? kids were RAISED WITH MANNERS...and they're awesome adults now.

OlympiaMays OlympiaMays 3 years

Ok. The things you seemed to have to apologize for were kinda dumb. I drilled manners into my kids, all of them, even the ones I teach. Only be sorry for things you should truly feel bad about ie. Taking another child's toy, pulling their hair, hurt feelings, etc. As far as teaching manners, it goes so far in life, explain to them it shows that it is being asked for by saying please not expected when they demand it. Thank you shows they are thankful for receiving whatever it is because they could have gone without and then they would be sad. It makes others feel good to hear thank you as well. Drill it now, when they become teenagers you may never hear it again until they have their own kids.

Amy68419 Amy68419 3 years

I taught my daughter at an early age to say thank you and please. Even before she could talk that much I would hand her something and then I would say "say thank you". I think there is enough ungrateful bratty kids out there without adding to it. It is so much nicer to hear a child say thank you when you give them something and also please when they ask for something instead of sounding like they are demanding it. Also, if a child does something that hurts another child either physically or mentally it is nice to hear them say sorry. I can't stand to see a child do something and then them just look at the person they hurt and not say sorry or act like they even care. I don't think as parents that we have to cram manners down their throat and make them constantly say they are sorry for every single little thing. 4

Glorife-Simon Glorife-Simon 3 years

With our children, we tried to lead by example. Great manners is a character of respect for your elders - at least in most Asian cultures it is. Apologies were treated with more sanctity, though. An apology was given of you truly felt remorseful; even still, the party that you were apologizing to did not need to accept the apology until they had their chance to provide you with emotional afterthought and reason. Both sides (our kids) have to explain why the other was apologizing and what they were apologizing while the other had the opportunity to express why he/she felt an apology was necessary. If they couldn't reconcile their differences then one (or both) parent/s would get involved.

VickiJacobs VickiJacobs 3 years

I started with the please and ta when my little girl could say a few words. It just took a few gentle reminders. I also modelled this on my part - always saying it myself. That way she could see the behavior in action. As for the apology side of manners I agree with you. I won't make her say sorry just for trivial things. She's at an age where she can reflect on how her behavior makes people feel and so will apologise in her own time. To me, this thought out apology means more than a forced one. Again I model the same courtesy. If I have shouted and not meant to, for example, I'll apologise to her.

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