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Teaching Children to Apologize

It’s bound to happen -- your child acts out, offends another person or refuses to share with others. When your child misbehaves, she may know the behavior is wrong but doesn’t know how to make amends. Therefore, it’s necessary for parents to teach children the importance of apologies.

“All we have to do is show kids that they will be happier, healthier and feel better about themselves each time they do something good, and their behavior changes dramatically,” says Sandra Zerner, founder of the It’s Good 2B Good Kids Character Education program in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Learning how to get along with others begins at home. Provide your child with the tools she needs to show empathy toward her family and her peers.

Teaching Awareness

Most children have uttered the words, “I’m sorry” at some point, but beyond just saying the words, your child needs to know the power behind those words. “If it’s for something they know they did wrong, an apology acknowledges that awareness and relives them of guilt they would otherwise carry around with them for days, weeks, months, years or potentially even a lifetime if the deed was severe enough,” says Zerner.

Express to your child that an apology offers healing for both sides. An apology says “I know I hurt you” and “I feel badly about it.” “It is a healing message for both the victim and the perpetrator and allows both to move forward in the relationship,” says Zerner.

RELATED: Teaching Your Children Not to Argue

Teaching Empathy

When teaching your children about the importance of apologies, the primary objective should be to teach empathy, too, says Fran Walfish, Beverly Hills-based psychotherapist and author of “The Self-Aware Parent: Resolving Conflict and Building a Better Bond With Your Child.”

“Most kids will apologize by default just to get you off their backs,” says Walfish. “Rather, you want to teach your children accountability, responsibility and a genuine sense of their own misstep.” When your child misbehaves, teach her to openly express the consequences of her actions. How did she hurt another person’s feelings? How did it feel to misbehave? When she can answer these questions, she may begin to feel the pain she may have caused another.

Teaching Language

The phrase “I’m sorry” may help resolve a situation, but teaching your child to apologize should be centered on specific language to express her feelings. “Instead of teaching your kids to say “I’m sorry,” help them expand by being very specific,” says Walfish. Ask your child to explain how and why she misbehaved in her own words. Then help her construct the right words to apologize. For example: “I am so sorry I grabbed your toy. I wanted my turn, and it was hard for me to wait. Next time I will ask you and not grab it out of your hand.”

With specific language, she can also clear up any miscommunication with friends and family when disagreements occur. “This helps the child organize in her mind what she did wrong and accept responsibility for her actions,” Walfish adds.

RELATED: Is My Son a Bully?

Teaching Patience

In many situations, an immediate apology may not be the best course of action. Your child may need time to cool off and reflect on the conflict and his behavior. Allow your child the time to process their actions and think about how he may have hurt another’s feelings. Once he has calmed down, prompt your child to talk about how he feels and how he thinks others involved feel about the situation. “The apology is not the main thing,” says Walfish. Instead, the importance should be placed on helping your child understand his actions.

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