Should you make kids apologize?



I don’t believe in making kids apologize. You may be wondering if you read that correctly. Yes, I said, “I don’t believe in making kids apologize.” Stay with me on this because there are reasons I feel this way. And it is true especially for the child of divorce.

Don’t get me wrong– it’s wise to teach children to apologize when they offend someone. Many times you’ll hear adults say to a child, “Tell your sister you’re sorry” to which the child might mumble in an almost audible voice, “I’m sorry” only to turn around and his sister again later.

True apology

When a child apologizes, I want it to be because the child truly feels the hurt he has caused someone. He needs to feel sorry for the wrong he did. The apology needs to come from a calm brain and a caring heart. It needs to be said because the child initiates the apology on her own.

The apology needs to not only say, “I’m sorry for ____________” (whatever the offense was) but also the child needs to ask for forgiveness. “Please forgive me.”

Child of divorce

There are many children of divorce that have a difficult time of saying, “I’m sorry.” There are several reasons

  • They have watched their parents fight and there has never been an apology forthcoming
  • They have heard an adult scream, “I’m SORRY. Does that make you happy?” Not exactly an apology.
  • They have heard adults use apologies as manipulation to get the other person to do what they want them to do.
  • These children have a lack of empathy. They may have lived with a person who was not empathetic consequently there has been no role model.
  • Even if a child was empathetic as a toddler, which most young children are, the ability to care for others has been crushed in them due to a lack of a caring parent.
  • One or both parents have been stressed for so long time that the kids have gotten lost in the divorce war. It seems no one cares about their feelings so they don’t care about other’s feelings.
  • One or both of their parents have caused them tremendous pain and no one has offered an, “I’m sorry this divorce is causing you so much pain. Can you forgive us?” Or “I’ve asked God to forgive me for my part in this divorce. I hope someday you’ll learn to forgive me too. Let’s pray about it right now and ask God to soften your heart to accept my apology.”

Think about this

  • Do you want a child to say, “I’m sorry” just to get out of trouble?
  • Do you want them to say, “I’m sorry” because you are a bigger, taller person and they need to do it to make you, the adult, happy?
  • Do you want a child to truly regret the hurt they have caused?
  • Do you want them to repent, turn around and change how they relate to others?
  • Have you ever realized that some kids need to practice saying, “I’m sorry” for the little things before they can truly apologize for the bigger things? “I’m sorry I took the pencil when you were getting ready to grab it. Please forgive me.” Or, “I’m sorry I bumped you. Did it hurt? Do you want an ice pack? Please forgive me.”

Modeling an apology

One time I was walking past a table of fifth grade boys. One kid stretched his long leg at the same time I was passing by. I tripped over his foot to which he yelped, “Hey!” Immediately I said, “Oh my goodness. I didn’t see your foot there. I’m sorry if I hurt you. Please forgive me.” To which he replied, “No way. You hurt my foot.”

This was the perfect time to model how to respond to someone who doesn’t want to forgive you. I said, “I can’t make you forgive me. I hope someday you will choose to accept my apology and forgive me for hurting your foot.” Then I turned and walked away. It is after all the other person’s right to forgive or not forgive.

Why I want to teach kids heart-felt apologies

The main reason I want to help children of divorce learn about sincere apologies is because I want them to learn about how much God loves them and how He can forgive them. I don’t want them to glibly apologize when they don’t mean it. I don’t want them to get in the habit of using an apology for their own benefit.

When they make the momentous decision to surrender their lives to Christ, I want them to truly understand what it means to repent and ask for forgiveness and to say to Christ, “I’m sorry for my sins. Please forgive me.”

5 thoughts on “Should you make kids apologize?

  1. Well now, this is an excellent post about something that is so important for relationships of all kinds. Modeling, teaching and encouraging children about apologizing and forgiving can set them up for more successful connections with others. We done, Linda!

  2. Pingback: DC4K » Helping a mean or hurtful child

Leave a Reply