July 29, 2013

Keeping It Real

As you may know, The Mini Fashionista is the wonderful age of two. And that means all the behaviors that come along with it; testing boundaries, finding her voice and exerting her power and place in this world. It’s a time of great discovery and development for her little brain, but also a time of great challenge for both of us as she learns the difference between right and wrong.

One of our recent challenges has been the act of saying “I’m sorry”. For whatever reason, she doesn’t like to do it. Maybe you’ve experienced this with your child. They do something wrong or hurtful and you want them to apologize, but they won’t. The Mini shows remorse, dropping her head, sometimes crying, but nine times out of ten, she refuses to apologize. Most of these instances involve minor accidents or general courtesies, so it’s not as if she bit the kid next to her and refuses to say she is sorry. Regardless of the severity of the incident, like all parents, I want her to learn and “feel” the emotions that come along with hurting someone and/or their feelings and the act of apologizing.

The challenge is this...I cannot force her to say “I’m sorry”.

After some thought, I’ve decided maybe it is better not to. Here is my reasoning. Forcing a child to apologize often results in fake apologies. We all know that kid that quickly and without any authenticity or care says “I’m sorry” just so he can be over and done with it. The apology is not at all genuine, and the child learns nothing about actually “feeling” sorry and showing remorse. That is definitely not the lesson I want to teach my child. Children need to learn that their actions have ramifications and they need to be willing to accept them, good and bad. So again, how do you teach that to a two year old? She isn’t exactly a rocket scientist...not yet, at least!

A friend of mine told me that at her child’s school, they don’t force kids to say “I’m sorry”. Instead they encourage actions that are a display of care and remorse such as painting a picture and giving a hug or a high five. Yes, this is a bit touchy feely, but isn’t that what apologies are all about? You sure “feel” a lot more remorse when someone gives you a big hug than you do when they say “my apologies or I’m sorry”. In this case, like in so many others, actions speak louder than words.

Clearly, I am no expert. I am not a child psychologist, and I don’t pretend to know any more about raising a happy, healthy and caring child than any other mom. But, I will refer back to a term I have used a lot lately, I am “aware”. I am aware of my child’s behavior now, and I know how my reactions to her behavior will shape her future behavior. So for that reason, I put a lot of thought into these types of situations. And that seems like a good start.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this, especially those of you with older children. Did you have similar struggles? What strategies did you find most successful?


  1. I agree with this! In addition to your reasoning, I believe it teaches kids to lie. So often I see parents force their kids to tell my children they are sorry. The child is rolling his or her eyes, looking the other way, or says it so fast and runs the other way. I don't think the child has any idea what "sorry" means, nor do they care. If I see a parent forcing their child to apologize to mine, I always ask the kid what "sorry" means, almost never do they have a clue. In addition, I don't ever force kids to give hugs (I can give you reasons for that one another time), but I ask my kids to check and see if their friend is OK. I also always always sit down and we talk about the situation with the other child and then alone. We talk about making good choices and using our words. I could ramble about this for a long time, but simply put, I agree!

  2. I would definitely agree with your approach at age 2, and I do a lot of talking about how their actions make the other person feel. As they get older we have introduced "making it right." If my 9 year old hurts someone (which is by accident unless it's his siblings!), he needs to make reparations somehow.

    I just finished a book called Parenting Without Borders by Christine Gross-Loh. Mostly the book wasn't breaking any new ground, but I did find the chapter on kindness/manners interesting. To some extent, one researcher she quoted argued for teaching your kids manners (including, at times, apologizing) regardless of whether they're "feeling" it because "actions can come before feelings." "It's true that children don't understand what's happening when they apologize, for example, and may not feel remorse at first. But when they see and experience that things works out better when they use social skills, they will understand. We should not deny them that experience because it violates their 'authenticity' to require words like 'I'm sorry' when they don't truly feel remorse yet. They are still learning." I just read this section yesterday, so I haven't reached any conclusions, but I offering it up as food for thought.


  3. Thanks for the great comments ladies! love it!