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Why Should Parents Stop Forcing Their Kids To Apologize?

Written by: Karen Gibson, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


I’d like you to consider how you model apologizing to your children. We teach our kids social etiquette from the time they learn to talk. "Say sorry" for misbehaving by hurting someone emotionally or physically is something we've been told again and again throughout childhood. What we don't realize is that forcing an insincere apology lacks authenticity. Children may resent apologizing when they are forced to admit their wrongdoing. Asking self-reflective questions and having a discussion when both sides are calm can be effective. Children will be more willing to apologize when it's on their terms and they understand why their behavior warrants saying sorry.

Apologizing does hold value in helping heal relationships by encouraging people to connect after an argument. Receiving a heartfelt apology makes us feel comfortable with someone who hurt us. Saying “I’m sorry” sends a message that we are not proud of what we did, and intend to not to repeat the inexusable behavior that often damages the trust in a relationship. However, if a teenager apologizes for breaking a house rule (sneaking out of the house or coming home after curfew), then repeats his misbehavior, his/her apology will lost its value. Forced apologies made during childhood may build resentment, sound insincere and often lead to refusing to apologize as adults.

Children as young as four-years-old understand the emotional consequences of an apology. They learn that they must say “I’m sorry” when they commit a wrongdoing. Sometimes, out of anger, I’ve demanded my daughter to apologize to her sister for her misbehavior. As I reflect on the countless times I’ve shouted the importance of apologizing, I remember hearing the lack of sincerity in the words “I’m sorry.” The person receiving the obligatory apology does not feel any compassion from the offender. The purpose of an apology is to make the wrongdoer understand that he or she has done something wrong and unacceptable. Also, apologizing helps both parties move past our anger and prevents us from being stuck in the past. We all know of family feuds where relatives stop speaking to each other because someone didn’t apologize or the apology wasn’t accepted.

The damaging effects of the shame children may feel when they are guilty of hurting someone can stick with them for years. Some may harbor that guilt which can lead to emotionally and physically illness. By saying sorry and taking responsibility for their actions, children can heal their guilt and practice forgiving themselves. The main message for parents who demand that their children apologize is the way children are taught to apologize. Children must understand what they did that requires an apology. Do they know they hurt someone? Do they feel justified in hurting someone? When children comprehend the importance of an apology and take initiation to say sorry for their misbehavior, they will apologize with sincerity. Don’t control the way they apologize, but guidance is teaching the steps of a proper apology will help children understand.

Acknowledge the wrongdoing, accept that it’s normal to react and misbehave, then take responsibility before actually saying their apology. Also, prepare them for having their apology be rejected if the person they hurt isn’t ready to forgive them. It’s natural to feel angry when one’s apology isn’t accepted. The best way to teach kids about forgiveness is to model it. If your children witness that when you make a mistake or do something that hurts them, you take the time to apologize, it will inspire them to do the same. Asking for forgiveness after saying sorry is a vital step in delivering a sincere apology.

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Karen Gibson, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Karen is the founder of "Letting Go with Aloha," offering coaching for overwhelmed parents and those in parenting roles who want to parent with peace instead of pain. As a former special education teacher, she also founded Brain Builders, a private tutoring business whose mission is to enhance students' mental and emotional potential. She is the author of "Mama's Gotta Let Go: How to Let Go Without Losing Your Sanity,” available on Amazon, as well as “100 Parenting Tips Inspired by the Pandemic,” published in March 2021 by Balboa Press.



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