Most of the time, they don’t mean it. “I’m sorry” are just words they repeat when they are told. It’s not a real apology. Unless they are taught what they mean the act of apologizing is meaningless.
Children need to learn to change their behaviors, not to just say I am sorry.
The right way to apologize
Children often just say, “sorry” and go on about their business. This only shows lack of empathy and caring toward the person they are apologizing to. Prior to apologizing there should be a private conversation with the child about what they did, why it was wrong and how they can do differently next time. Ask the child how they can show the other person (adult or child) that they are going to do things differently next time.
If a child physically hurt someone else, have them “check” on them. This helps teach empathy. They can offer them a wet paper towel, tissue or ice pack. Have them sit with the person that was hurt and make sure they are alright. When the child apologizes they should say; I am sorry that I (what ever action) you. I was ( identify the emotion, sad, mad, hurt, etc). Next time I am going to (solution; tell a teacher, use my words, walk away).
You can adjust apologies to suit the situation.
Accepting an apology
Children should be taught how to accept an apology. Often I hear children and adults say, “oh that’s okay.” Actually, not it’s not. It’s not okay that this child hurt, hit, disrespected, etc anyone.
When another child is accepting an apology they need to acknowledge that the other child apologized. It’s hard to say that you were wrong! But they also need to let the other child know how it made them feel ( another empathy lesson). This works for adults too.
“I didn’t like it when you hit me. It hurt and made me scared. Thank you for saying sorry.”
“It scared me when you climbed on the shelf and didn’t use your listening ears. I want to keep you safe. Thank you for telling me you are sorry and I know you will make safer choices next time.”
Actions not words
Children learn quickly that all they have to do is say “sorry” and everything is all better. Instead of allowing them to use “sorry” as a band-aid, we need to teach them to change their behavior. If they need to make things right with an adult, have them spend some time helping them in the classroom or at home. Let the child know they can show that they can make better choices.
When changing behavior towards a peer, the child can take care of the friend, or a teacher can facilitate a cooperative activity such as a turn taking game or a collaborative activity involving creating something together. This allows the children to work together and the child to rebuild trust.
Words aren’t meaningless
Children understand the power of words. They use them to threaten (You aren’t going to my birthday party!) or to strengthen a relationship (You are my best friend!). But they also know that saying sorry is often accepted as everything is all better. We don’t want them to learn, “do then say sorry later”.
Children are need to learn to take responsibility for their actions by apologizing in a meaningful way that allows the person they hurt to feel heard and understood. Children also need to understand that actions do speak louder than words. This means showing not just saying. It also allows both parties to express their emotions in a safe way and to make a plan to do better in the future.
Read about apologizing with a book! Just click here: https://amzn.to/2YZDds8
Check out our resources page for other tips, tricks and help!