How to get a child to say sorry

Have you been in the situation where your child digs their heels in and refuses to say sorry?

How about when it is in front of another parent and your child has just hit the other child?

I first went to parenting classes because my son (aged 2 ½) was a hitter in play situations with other children.

I was continually mortified and I would insist he said sorry.

He would either refuse or say 'sorrreeeee', with no meaning in it at all. That was almost worse than nothing.

We all want children to admit when they've done wrong and show some kind of remorse.

So what can you do about it when they refuse or sound so insincere?

When a child has done something wrong they almost always know it and we really don’t need to hammer it home by telling them how bad they’ve been. But how will they ever learn I hear you ask? 

They learn when they feel understood and you look beyond the behaviour to see what is causing it.

So here are some ways to help

  • You might need to remove your child from the ‘scene of the crime’ especially if other people are around watching and listening.  This will help them engage more with you.
  • Instead of jumping straight in with criticism, make a statement and ask a question ‘You just pushed Jack, I think you didn’t want him to play with your train, what should you have done?’. When they’ve answered the question it shows they’ve gone some way to accepting responsibility. You might need to wait till they’ve calmed down before you get an answer.
  • Don’t leap to assumptions about their motive - very often behaviour is because they are impulsive or they have a feeling they can’t control not to be intentionally spiteful or destructive.
  • Say something like ‘it is unlike you to push like that’. Or ‘I think you snatched Lily’s doll because you felt jealous. What do you need to do now?’. Your child may know what they need to do or they may not be in the right frame of mind to answer this. In which case you are much better to wait.  If needs be you can say something to the other child. 'Jamie knows he shouldn’t have snatched the doll and he wants to say sorry, he just needs a bit of time to cool down.’
  • Sometimes a gesture is even more powerful – you could suggest that they show they are sorry by giving the other child a hug, doing a drawing for them or offering a favourite toy for them to play with. When your child is helped to actively make amends it makes everyone feel better and even if this happens the following day, it is much better than an insincere sorry in the moment.