Often when children do thing that upset another child adults force them to say I’m sorry. But, if you only tell the child “say I’m sorry” and that is it, are they really sorry? Do they understand what they are sorry for? Why do I have to say I’m sorry, I really wanted that toy. I didn’t mean to knock them down, why should I apologize? By forcing a child to just say I’m sorry, they aren’t learning what it means to apologize, and more important they aren’t fixing the problem.
Here is a simple extension to the I’m sorry that will assist the child in seeing what was wrong AND how to fix the problem.
I’m sorry that I ___________. What can I do to make you feel better? examples– I’m sorry that I knocked down your blocks. What can I do to make you feel better? The last part of this allows the child who was “offended/hurt/upset” to decide what they need… in this example they may want the child to help them rebuild the blocks. We want to validate the feelings of the child who as upset. Simple things like getting a tissue for a child who is crying, getting a band aid or even just a high five and smooth over emotions.
That is the simplest form and where to start the process. This is how I teach children who are young (3/4), who struggle to communicate, and those who are dealing with big emotions at the time.
To go beyond this. I’m sorry that I _________. Next time I will _______. What can I do to make you feel better? example– I’m sorry that I knocked you down. Next time I will watch where I’m running. What can I do to make you feel better?
The goal is for children to recognize what they did, how they can change it and what they can do now to fix the situation. I’m sorry is not enough to do this.
One last thing… children should not be taught to say “It’s ok” when they are “wronged”. It is not ok to be knocked down. It is not ok for someone to upset you. The child can accept the apology. The child can say. Thank you for apologizing, please be more careful next time. Thank you for apologizing can we work together to fix this? By saying it is ok then you are telling the other child they can do it again.