Get kids to Say Sorry for Real – 10 steps to make it happen


From the very first time my eldest child did something that was viewed as “wrong” I insisted that she apologise.  But how do you encourage your child to say sorry with empathy and sincerity and a genuine intention not to repeat their transgression?

In two Okimoto and Colleagues studies during 2013, they found that people who refused to apologise felt better about themselves and in support of their “basic need for independence and power.” (1)

But do we really want to raise children who offend, hurt or harm others and then refuse to apologise?


 What prevents your child/ someone from saying sorry?

  1. Loss of power – When your son has done something something wrong and subsequently apologised, he is admitting that he is in the wrong and relinquishing some of his power away from himself and over to the child he has hurt.
  2. Righteousness – Your son may be angry/ frustrated or upset and does not actually believe he has done something wrong. “My brother knocked over the blocks so I hit him! He should not have done that.”
  3. Fear of consequence – when your son is automatically punished for doing something wrong, then he will always be loath to admit his transgression.
  4. Immaturity – A lack of understanding / maturity of how your son’s actions have affected the other child i.e. the inability to empathise as well as the inability to successfully communicate his frustration.
  5. Pride/ Embarrassment – the child in the wrong may feel embarrassed by what he has done and be too proud to admit he was wrong.
  6. Anxiety – that the other child might refuse to accept your apology.


How to encourage your child to apologise?

  1. Empathy – When your son has hurt, upset or harmed someone else discuss, explain and emphasise the effect of his actions and how he might feel if roles were reversed.
  2. Everyone makes mistakes – Remind children that everyone can make a mistake and that’s perfectly okay.  Show them how they can learn from these mistakes.  This will also encourage them to accept constructive feedback in the future. (1)
  3. Emphasise the relationship – Teach children that our relationships with other people is more important than the argument or who is “right.”
  4. Create awareness that your child has the power to remove some of the hurt they have caused by being genuinely apologetic and apologising.
  5. Teach that a clear conscience is a result – the guilt and worry of how your son might have upset another person can be extremely destructive on him. (2)
  6. Model apologising – when you do something wrong, apologise because children learn what they see.
  7. Offer your child time away – allow your son time to collect himself, (i.e. forgive the: sibling that knocked down the blocks; the friend that laughed at him; or the angry words someone said before he retaliated).
  8. Hear you child – really tuning in and listening to what he has to say will assist you to understand why he responded the way he did.  You can then encourage him to apologise if necessary or elicit an apology from both parties. It also enable you, the parent, to intervene if necessary.
  9. Remind your child that all emotions are okay it’s what we do with them that counts. Emphasise that while it is okay for your son to be angry, upset or hurt, expressing all of these emotions is acceptable,however, it is not okay to express these emotions by hurting someone else.
  10. Remorse – sometimes we do things wrong and that is okay, it’s what happens next that counts and a genuine apology is a great place to start.


How to apologise?

  1. Try to encourage an apology as soon as possible, the longer you wait the more difficult it can become.
  2. Aaron Lazare a psychiatrist who studied shame and humiliation became interested in the apology for its healing nature and he wrote in Go Ahead, Say You’re Sorry,(3) says there are some essential elements to a successful apology and these include:


“A good apology also has to make you suffer. Unless you communicate guilt, anxiety, and shame, people are going to question the depth of your remorse. The anxiety and sadness demonstrate that the potential loss of the relationship matters to you. Guilt tells the offended person that you’re distressed over hurting him. And shame communicates your disappointment with yourself over the incident.” Aaron Lazare (3). 


Moving past the apology

Sometimes the sibling/ friend/ parent your son is apologising to is not ready to accept their apology.  Your son needs to respect that the other person is still upset with them. Your role as the parent is to support your child through this life lesson, it is the other person’s choice whether or not to forgive your son and it is your son’s responsibility to apologise for what he has done wrong and try his best not to do it again.


Do you insist that your child apologise when they have done something wrong? What steps do you take to encourage the apology in your family?


  • Source:
    1.,accessed 22 April 2014
    2. ,accessed 22 April 2014
    3., accessed 22 April 2014
    4. accessed 22 April 2014,  accessed 22 April 2014
    5.  accessed 22 April 2014
    6., accessed 22 April 2014
    7., accessed 22 April 2014
    8., accessed 25 April 2014


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