Forcing children to say sorry might be totally pointless, says expert – so try this instead
A while ago, back when it was still allowed, we were visiting friends and the kids were all out playing in the garden.
It was all fun and games and plenty of giggles and laughs until my friend's little girl came in crying and declared that someone had pulled her hair. Seconds later my little boy entered the room with a fistful of black hair and revealed himself as the offender.
Naturally, I did what I assume most parents would do in this scenario – crouch down to his level and very sternly explain that he had done something very bold and to apologise to poor Sofie immediately.
Which he did, in an almost whisper and with an extremely fast hug, before running out to continue whatever game they were doing. As did little Sofie, it must be said, too.
However, in forcing my little boy to apologise, I might have actually been committing a bit of a parenting faux pas. Parenting website Mom.me ran an interview earlier this year with therapists Julie Wright and Heather Turgeon, authors of the new book "Now Say This: The Right Words to Solve Every Parenting Dilemma" and they claim that forcing a child to say sorry is, in fact, rarely constructive.
"For one, it’s just a word and it’s meaningless unless we take the time to understand what’s underneath," they explain. "Some kids learn to just say it quickly because they know it gets them out of trouble—but it doesn’t connect the dots between their actions, the pain it caused or the development of empathy."
More troubling, according to the experts is that forcing a “sorry” can effectively close the conversation and thus cuts off learning.
"It shames the child and, depending on her personality, might elicit resistance and the tendency to fight back or stubbornly shut down."
What’s a more meaningful response, you might ask.
"It’s one that keeps communication open and prompts kids to pause, think and connect what they did to their own internal state, and figure out a better way. If it sounds like a tall order, it’s not, because it happens slowly and surely over time. Instead of forcing a "sorry," prompt your child to take a second to reflect on what she was trying to say, or to check in with her friend in a more meaningful way."
Here are some examples from Wright:
As the parent, you might say, "Were you trying to tell her something? Say it with words, not your feet."
"That looked like it hurt. Let’s check in with your friend."
"Come with me to get an ice pack for your friend."
Over time, kids become good at making their own meaningful “apologies” to their friends, like:
"I wasn’t looking where I was going. Are you OK?"
"I drew you a picture to help you feel better."
"Can I get you some ice?"
What do YOU think, mamas? Do YOU "force" your child into apologizing? Or do you deal with bad behaviour in a different way? We would love to know your approach.