PJ Parenting Roundtable: Do You Make Your Kids Say 'I'm Sorry' When They've Done Something Wrong?



Every week PJ Parenting writers weigh in on parenting issues large and small and you have the opportunity to share your insights in the comments section below. We’d love it if you’d join us for a cup of coffee and some great conversation!


Question:  Do you make your kids say “I’m sorry” and apologize when they’ve done something wrong? 

Brianna Sharbaugh: This is one that already makes me nervous. My toddler is FAST approaching the age where these opportunities will be a regular occurrence. His verbal skills are remarkable and watching him learn is such a treasure to my heart.

Saying “I am sorry” and asking for forgiveness are things we will teach our son. They are important because each time we ask for forgiveness we reveal a bigger need in our lives. We are not perfect. We are flawed and fallen human beings. The most important thing I can teach my son is that there is hope past our screw-ups because of Jesus Christ and what He did for us on the cross.

When we ask forgiveness we are acknowledging that we have done something wrong, and agreeing with God’s standard of what is right and wrong. Recognizing the problem of sin is only part of the equation, as Jesus completes the picture. Each time an opportunity arises in our home for forgiveness (and that is often, as we are all fallen, flawed human beings!), we are reminded of why Jesus had to die on the cross. He died to take the punishment that we deserved for all of the times we have messed up. We can forgive others because we know how much God has forgiven us.

We will encourage and explain why our son should seek forgiveness when he wrongs someone else, but we will not force it. Just as we cannot force our son to seek forgiveness from God, we will not force him to seek forgiveness from others. We will encourage him to acknowledge how his act affected others and will remind him of the forgiveness that God offers to all who ask, but we will not force him to seek forgiveness. The book I mentioned last week, Give Them Grace, by Elyse Fitzpatrick, has an excellent explanation of this parenting practice. I know I did not do it justice, so read her book if you want a better explanation.

Megan Fox: I do make my children apologize, but I make them understand why they need to mean it. And they don’t get off the hook until they have a heart change and show real repentance. In all cases, I try to find something for them to offer in exchange for their wrong behavior. If they took something that wasn’t theirs then they replace that thing and also give something else in contrition. If they say mean things, then they apologize and must come up with something they like about that person instead. In order to make the lesson stick, it all comes back to the Child Training Bible for me (again). I use this resource regularly so they understand why they should not argue with one another (Pleasant words are sweet and bring healing to the body! A broken friendship is harder to deal with than a city that has high walls around it. Avoiding a fight brings honor to a man. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.) 

Asking forgiveness is also something that should be modeled, so when I fly off the handle and start yelling to “PUT YOUR SHOES ON BEFORE I HAVE A MENTAL BREAKDOWN!” I must ask for my children’s forgiveness because they were wronged. If we never ask for forgiveness (and let’s face it, we all need it) then we can’t expect our children to do it.

 Julie Prince:  With my children, if they have wronged another by lying or taking something that wasn’t theirs, or saying something mean , etc., I do want them to apologize, but only after they have had time to reflect on what happened. I talk with them about why what happened was inappropriate and ask them to think of a solution. If I made them apologize right away, it would be in vain. After some time, I ask them what they think an appropriate solution would be to make it right. I am teaching them that it’s the content of your character that matters and showing humility is part of what makes a person able to learn from a mistake. Being able to admit when your wrong is an important part of a healthy kid and eventual adult. Usually, they come up with very brilliant answers that may include things like “make the person a card,” “help them clean their room,” or “help them with their homework.” It usually always ends with a hug and a sincere apology…until the next time.

Susan L.M. Goldberg:  In Torah, physical action manifests spiritual principle. Long before we understand why we do what we do, we’re doing it because practice makes perfect. Atonement is a necessary act for a happy life and a functioning society, therefore it is an action that must be taught and practiced regularly. And because learning is doing, through the physical practice of apologizing when an apology is due, a parent can discuss the mental, emotional and spiritual aspects of the apology at an age appropriate level.

All that being said, I would also teach my child never to apologize just because he was told to do so, especially if my husband and I aren’t the ones doing the telling. Sometimes an authority figure can order an apology out of a child and, in doing so, only further alienate the child who either feels he did nothing wrong, or isn’t sorry for whatever it is he did. When I was told to apologize for offending a fellow student in 5th grade for calling his idea stupid, I stood my ground. It was a stupid idea, the kid knew it and was using the teacher’s moral compass to egg me on. Apologizing would’ve given him the upper hand he wanted, and I knew it. So I refused. Kids are sharp like that — they know what’s real and what isn’t. The last thing you want your child to learn is the wrong context for an apology.

Kristina Ribali:  This is one of those questions where it definitely depends on the situation and who is telling my child to apologize.  There have been times where someone other than myself or my husband has insisted my child apologize for something that really wasn’t actually wronging someone or hurting someone.  In that instance I would hope that the years I’ve spent teaching my children to respectfully speak their minds would kick in (even to adults and even if their voices shake) and they wouldn’t be shamed or bullied into apologizing for something they weren’t sorry for or that wasn’t wrong to begin with.

Sometimes other parents, teachers, older siblings, etc., can project their insecurities or issues onto a child and the last thing I want is for my children to feel that they have to apologize simply to appease someone who may be overly sensitive.

When my children have done something wrong to someone else, I always try to ask what went through their minds at the time they made this choice.  Did they think about the way it impacted others?  Did they make a wise choice?  Would they do it again? How do they feel about what they did, now that they’ve thought about it?  Usually, those questions bring them to a point of contrition and sincere regret over their actions and then, when I ask them if they think they should apologize, almost always the answer is yes.

I’ve tried to model that in our home as well when I’ve done something stupid and needed forgiveness and needed to say I’m sorry.  I make sure they know that after I thought about the way it impacted them and that it wasn’t the best way the situation could be handled that I was truly sorry and would like forgiveness for my poor response. Like everyone else, I don’t always think through things.

I can only think of one instance (there are probably others I’m forgetting) when I made one of my children apologize immediately without reflection first and without any questioning.  I won’t tolerate rude children, and we’ve always taught our children that when it comes to talking to adults you can be shy, you don’t have to be the life of the party, but you will NOT be rude. If we’re with you and an adult says hello, you are to respond appropriately. Especially when it’s an elderly or handicapped person. And the one instance where my son was rude to a dear older woman in my church who said hello and asked how he was, I immediately  told him to apologize to her, and he did.  In retrospect, I probably should have taken him aside and run through the usual questioning, but I didn’t.  At the time I was shocked he was so rude and didn’t even acknowledge her, as it was completely out of character for him — and he’s not repeated that behavior (to my knowledge) since.

Julie Prince:  I agree with you Kristina! I won’t tolerate rude children, either. I always taught my children not to be “that” child. You know the one…who makes fun of other kids or is mean spirited and spiteful. I think it’s a direct reflection of poor parenting. It includes what I like to call the “Eddie Haskell” syndrome. Nice in front of parents and a little jerk behind the scenes.

Let us know what you think in the comments below!

See previous PJ Parenting Roundtables:

Helicopter or Free Range Parenting?

How Often Do You Give Your Children Baths?

How Do You Explain Pictures of Deceased Family Members to Kids?

Do You Allow Your Kids to Say ‘I Hate You’?

What’s the Best (And Worst) Parenting Advice You’ve Ever Received?

Should Parents Trust Their Instincts or the Experts?

Straight Talk About the Vaccination Controversy

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