Monday, February 28, 2011

How can I get my child to truly be sorry for wrong actions?

Being sorry for one’s actions takes empathy, which generally does not develop in a person until around age 8 and often times later so don’t be surprised if your young child does not seem to care that they hurt someone else. Learning empathy is an important part of developing an emotionally well adjusted child. Empathy should normally develop in a child, but it is always good to teach it too.

Here’s how to do it. Your 5 year old pushes a little boy on the playground. You can immediately go over and remove her from the situation. If you feel you NEED to apologize yourself you can, but MAKING your child say she’s sorry will do nothing to teach her to actually be sorry.

Once removed from the others, ask your child what happened and then listen. She may or may not want to talk. If she doesn’t want to talk, ask her to look at the child that she pushed and tell you what SHE notices. The other child may still be crying or sad from the event and hopefully your child will say something to that effect. If she has no answer you can tell her what YOU see.

Then ask why the other child might be sad. She will most likely say because I pushed her or because she fell down. You can then talk about how people don’t like to get hurt and it is not nice to hurt. You can even talk about the Golden Rule, to treat other people the way that you want them to be treated (that concept is too advanced for a child under 4). Pick ONE topic and don’t lecture too much.

After this BRIEF conversation you ask her if there is something SHE could do to make the other child feel better. She might respond “say sorry.” Remember that using words are only one way to communicate sorrow. Giving the child a hug or sharing a toy with him would also be a really good way to make the situation better and in a lot of ways is a more effective one. Sorry is a word, sharing a toy is an action and generally shows there is an emotional investment in the situation. If she does not respond to your question nor has any ideas, you can give a few suggestions on what might make the child feel better.

Then ask her if she would like to go DO whatever was suggested. If she says yes, go with her to do it. If she says that she does not want to go, tell her that you are going to go make the boy feel better and (with your child by your side) go to him and tell him “I am sorry my daughter hurt you”, share a toy with him or give him a hug (with the parents’ permission.)

As your child witnesses you caring about others, apologizing. when YOU hurt someone and making someone feel better; they will begin to model your actions. You may find an 8 year old (or younger) surprising you by seeming to generally be sorry for hurting someone one day and behaving maliciously the next. This is how children grow. They begin to understand something one day and the next revert to old behavior. Be patient and don’t force them.

One of the big reasons we MAKE our children say “SORRY” is the expectations of others. Our child hurt someone and we feel we are not being good parents if we don’t make them say sorry. The only thing this really teaches them is to LIE. Think about it, you are asking them to say something “I’m sorry”, when they really aren’t sorry. That is lying!

Don’t be afraid to apologize to your child for things you do to them. After all there is no point in their life that they will be paying more attention to you then when you hurt them in some way.

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