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 especially true 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.” The child might mumble in an almost audible voice, “I’m sorry”—only to turn around and hit his sister again later when you aren’t looking.

True apologies

When children apologize, I want it to be because they truly feel the hurt they caused someone. They need to feel sorry for the wrong they did. The apology needs to come from a calm brain and a caring heart. It needs to be said because children initiate the apology on their own.

Children should not only apologize and say, “I’m sorry for ____________” (whatever the offense was) but should also ask for forgiveness: “Please forgive me.”

Child of divorce

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

  • They have watched their parents fight and never seen 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 other people to do what they want.
  • These children lack empathy. They may have lived with a person who was not empathetic; consequently, they have had 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 by the lack of a caring parent.
  • One or both parents have been stressed for so long the kids have gotten lost in the divorce war. It seems no one cares about their feelings, so they don’t care about others’ feelings.
  • One or both parents have caused the children tremendous pain, and no one has said, “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 children 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 children 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 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 out his long legs at the same time I was passing by. I tripped over his foot, and 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.” 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 heartfelt apologies

The main reason I want to help children of divorce learn about sincere apologies is that I want them to learn 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 apologies 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, ask for forgiveness, and say to Christ, “I’m sorry for my sins. Please forgive me.”


This article is updated and adapted from an article originally published on the Kids & Divorce blog on April 23, 2015.

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6 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

  3. Pingback: DC4K » Question of the week: How do I help a mean or hurtful child?

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