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Making Kids Say Sorry When They Don’t Actually Mean It

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Yes, we all do it. We make them say, “I am sorry” even when they are not.  Or maybe they just don’t understand what there is to be sorry for. Regardless, over and over I hear parents tell their kids to say, “I’m Sorry.” And when kids just parrot “I’m Sorry” like they are told many times, the next request is to “say it like you mean it.”  Are we just asking them to be better liars?  Why do we do it?

There are a handful of reasons, but mainly because we really do want them to be sorry, and we, as their parent, want to save face when other parents are watching and listening.  How do we as parents expect them to truly feel sorry when we don’t create the space to allow them to feel what we think they should feel?The message we are often sending is that it does not matter what happened that led to this action and that sometimes the one who cries the loudest gets the apology. So what can we do instead? There are a handful of responses that will not only teach children how to handle strong emotions better but will also lead to actual empathy. Here are a few ideas to try out instead of asking your child to repeat an empty statement:

1)   Start by asking what happened. There does not need to a victim and a perpetrator in every situation. Give each child the time and space to say what happened that lead up to the painful statement or behavior. You may learn that there should actually be an apology from both parties. You can simply ask, “What just happened?”  or “What made you say/do that?”

2)   Help your child identify how their action or statement made the other child feel.  Help them to notice some of the cues that might indicate a feeling. Ex, “Did you see Emily’s face? How did she look? How do you think that made her feel?”

3)   Problem Solve. If your child is actually at fault, help your child to figure out how this situation can be rectified or solved. The goal is not to make them feel worse. Children actually do better when they feel better.  And sometimes the opportunity is to help your child build a new skill so that they can handle a future situation in a healthier, safer and more positive way.

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