When kids break rules or hurt others’ feelings, we want them to apologize. But they often won’t (or can’t) say they’re sorry. Or maybe they mumble “I’m sorry” without putting any thought into what happened.
So how can you teach kids to apologize and actually mean it?
Giving a genuine apology is a skill kids can struggle with for lots of reasons. They might have a hard time seeing things from another person’s point of view. Or maybe they can’t get the words out or have trouble socially, so they sound forced. And some kids just don’t like saying it.
Whatever the reason, you can teach kids to give a genuine apology by using the word SORRY. Each letter is a step.
S is for Stand up.
To give a genuine apology, you have to recognize what happened and how another person feels. Kids need to see that harm was done. It’s not always easy to get kids on board. But if you ask them open-ended questions, kids will often say that, yes, something bad happened.
It sounds like: “I’m sorry I knocked your stuff off your desk.”
O is for Own it.
Once kids have said what happened, they might be ready for the next step: accepting their role. It’s not just that something bad happened. Rather, something bad happened, and they’re responsible for it.
It sounds like: “I overreacted because I was angry.”
R is for Respond differently.
Next, kids are ready to think about what they could have done differently. Going through this step helps kids learn what to do (and what not to do) the next time their emotions get the better of them.
It sounds like: “I should have thought before I acted.”
R is for Repair the damage.
Sometimes it’s easy to fix things. Other times, what’s done is done. In these cases, kids may just need to ask what they can do to make things better.
It sounds like: “I’ll help you pick it up” or “What can I do to make this better?”
Y is for Yield to their feelings.
Part of a genuine apology is not expecting that the other person will forgive right away. It may be hard for kids to stomach, but other people have the right to be unhappy with them.
It sounds like: “I know you might still be upset.”
Once you go through the SORRY letters, put it all together and have kids say the whole thing. That’s a genuine apology. And because kids have reflected on what happened, they may feel real remorse.
Don’t expect all this to come easily, though. Try not to force it. It takes some kids a long time to get to a place where they can say they’re sorry.
Download a cheat sheet below to help your child put together a genuine apology.
A Simple SORRYPDF
A Complicated SORRYPDF
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About the author
About the author
Amanda Morin is the director of thought leadership at Understood and author of “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education.” She worked as a classroom teacher and early intervention specialist for more than a decade.