Forcing an Apology: How Bad?

Filed under: Opinions, Behavior, Development: Toddlers & Preschoolers, Behavior: Toddlers & Preschoolers, Expert Advice: Toddlers & Preschoolers

toddler playing

Should you force your child to apologize? Credit: Photodisc

At the playground recently, a tussle over sand toys ended with one mom demanding her child apologize. He wouldn't. The wronged child stood there for five minutes while the parent of the offender repeated "Apologize! Apologize!"

Hmm... Is forcing an apology simply enforcing good manners, or does it get away from the original intention of an apology? How bad is it to force kids to apologize? To find out, I called my friend and Mommy Advisor Rosanne Tobey, director of
Calm and Sense Therapy, a counseling service, for her take on the situation.

"It's good that this mother is worried about teaching her child empathy and manners," said Tobey. "But when a child has accidentally whacked another kid and now they feel terrible and they're burying their face in Mom's legs and she's saying 'Johnny, apologize! Johnny apologize!,' it can be kind of overwhelming for everyone and I'm not sure the right lesson is getting through. Clearly, Johnny feels terrible already."

So what's a mom supposed to do? Tobey had some good ideas.

Apologize for your child. A mom can go over to the hurt child with her child and say something like, "We're sorry you were hurt. Here's your toy back." This way, Tobey said, "the mother is modeling good behavior and setting a good example for her child -- it's a great way to quickly resolve the issue."

Practice apologizing during fun times. "It's important that children learn the skill of apologizing, and showing empathy," said Tobey. "Practice with role playing. Pretend she hits you or you hit her, and show each other different ways to say you're sorry." You can have fun with it and she'll still get the message.

Don't make a federal case about it. "If he doesn't say he's sorry, say it for him, then talk later about what his feelings were and why he didn't apologize," said Tobey. Making a huge deal out of the actual apology on spot might just make this an ongoing issue.

Teach children feeling words. "Starting at four years old, you can teach children feeling words. You can get a
feeling faces chart and have them point at the face they were feeling and teach them the feeling words," said Tobey. "You're teaching your child how to identify his feelings and how to empathize with other people's feelings as well."

Have you had a less-than-perfect parenting moment and that has left you wondering, "How bad?" Send it to Sabrina at She'll try to answer as many as she can.

Sabrina Weill is the founder of the pink and princess-y gift site:
PrincessLovesPink. Many of the Mommy Advisors in this column are the writer's personal or professional friends.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.