Here are four ways to help children learn to make amends and say sorry when they truly mean it:
Hear your child out
When your child has hurt someone or made a mistake, try to find out their side of the story. Once you know what happened, reflect their story back to them. Using reflective listening is particularly helpful with siblings so all parties feel like they are receiving equal attention and care. So, in practice, instead of rushing in when someone is hurt for example and expecting someone to apologize, instead gather everyone together, and hear-out all parties involved. You may try saying something like: “I’d like to hear what happened from both of you, who would like to tell me first?”
Connect the Dots
Especially for young children, being able to connect previous experiences with what they are living now is helpful for learning. So, before insisting on an apology, talk together and recall a similar situation. Maybe someone hurt their feelings with mean words and they can now recall that it wasn’t such a nice experience. That is the first step towards having empathy for the friend they may have teased or hurt. If a problem needs to be solved, remembering they have done it before also boost confidence and can spark the initiative to make amends on their own.
Extend a moment of patience
Making amends doesn’t need to be immediate. Sometimes a bit of time may elapse between the actual event or mistake and when a child feels genuinely remorseful. Allowing time and flexibility for the genuine feelings to emerge is vastly more “teachable” to a child than being rushed to express feelings that are not yet genuine.
Notice the sincere apologies
Apologies from children that are truly genuine and heartfelt tend to be sponatenous, like a big hug or offering to share a favorite toy. Often, saying sorry between children looks nothing like what we as adults expect. Like that day at the park, neither my daughter or her friend needed to say “I am sorry.” Their actions and kindness towards her each other said it all. Also, I’m pretty sure that If I had rushed in to insist on aplogies, I would have missed that special giggle filled moment!
When it comes to helping children make amends, remember that more valuable than the words our children use, it is what they take away from each moment that will truly count. Teaching children the value of a genuine apology is worthwhile. Sometimes it just takes a bit more time than requesting they use those three little words right away.
Peace & Be Well,