What to Say to Little Kids Instead of "Say Sorry"
Global  
offspring

When touring different preschools for my daughter, I visited one where I got to observe the kids playing on the playground. While climbing the ladder on the slide, a little boy accidentally stepped on a little girl’s finger, and she started crying. What happened next left me astounded.

 

The boy, who was 3, went up to the girl, looked her in the eye and asked, “Are you okay? Can I get you a wet towel?”
 
She wiped her tears, shook her head no, and they both went back to playing.
 
I looked at the preschool director, like, uh, what was that?
 
“We don’t make kids say ‘sorry,’” she explained. “The word doesn’t mean much without an action to help make things better.”
 
The exchange was such a departure from what I was used to seeing among parents, who tend to force apologies from their children for every accidental bump, whack, and knock-down of a just-built Lego masterpiece. Usually, they’ll give the kid a stern look, and ask, “Hey, what do you say?” Then, when the child mutters a robotic “sorry,” all is good! Manners! We’re teaching them!
 
But this approach might be mostly meaningless, writes Heather Shumaker in her book It’s OK Not to Share and Other Renegade Rules for Raising Competent and Compassionate Kids. Children love the word “sorry,” Shumaker explains, as it magically lets them off the hook. “It’s a little like teaching kids to be hit-and-run drivers,” she writes. The problem with the “sorry” solution is that many young children—say, preschool age—haven’t reached a stage of moral development to actually feel sorry, so parents are missing a key opportunity to teach real empathy.
 
Shumaker writes: 
 
Young kids sometimes fool us. They can mimic “Sorry” and even cry when another child cries, but most children are not capable of being sorry yet. Children differ—you may have an early bloomer—but most children simply lack the emotional and cognitive development to feel remorse. Remorse requires the ability to take another person’s perspective and fully understand cause and effect. These skills are still emerging in young children. Expecting young kids to say “Sorry” teaches them nothing more than a misguided lesson in sequence: kick, say “Sorry,” move on.
 
Instead, parents can help kids develop moral compassion by explaining that their actions have consequences, showing that they can do something to make things better and modeling ways to use the word “sorry” meaningfully.
 
For everyday accidents, Shumaker offers these steps:
 
Bring the Kids Together 
 
Sometimes, when children believe they’re about to be in trouble, they run, Shumaker explains. If this happens, you can put an arm around the child, and say something like, “You need to come back here. Callie got hurt. Even if you didn’t mean to do it, she got hurt, and you need to come back.”
 
Tell the Child Who Caused the Accident What Happened, And Be Specific 
 
Even when what happened seems obvious, it needs to be pointed out to a young child. State the facts. “Your shopping cart ran over her toe.” “Your hand knocked the cup of water onto her painting.” “You were dancing and your arm whacked her face.”
 
Describe What You See
 
Examining the facts of the scene helps kids develop empathy. Emphasize the consequences of their actions for the other child (or adult), and be specific: “Look, he’s crying. There’s a scratch on his arm. It must hurt.”
 
Model Empathy for the Hurt Child
 
Ask the child: “Are you okay?”
 

 

Take Action
 
While little kids may not fully understand remorse, the book explains, they are good at taking action. They can run to grab a Band-Aid or an ice pack, or help clean up the mess they made. Help them take responsibility.
 
Make a Guarantee
 
Shumaker writes, “Reassurance that it won’t happen again means something. ‘Sorry’ does not.” To reestablish trust among the kids, she writes, have the child who caused the accident make a guarantee to the other child that she won’t do it again. You can ask, “Are you going to hit him again?” or have her say the words, “I won’t hit you again.” 
 
Model Saying “Sorry” in Your Own Life
 
Eventually, we do want kids to say “sorry.” But instead of making them say “sorry,” Shumaker writes that it’s more effective to model saying sorry when you as a parent screw up. Just make sure your own apologies are meaningful. That means acknowledging the consequences of your actions and taking steps to make things better. For example: “I’m sorry I forgot to bring your teddy bear to school day. You missed him during nap time. I’m writing it down on my list so I will remember next time.” 
 
Soon, kids say “sorry” without prompting, and they’ll really mean it.
 

 
 


 
 


 
More in Global
Mumbai Press Club backs boycott of Kangana Ranaut: ‘It has become part...

The Mumbai Press Club on Friday said it backs the decision of the Entertainment Journalists Guild to boycott actor Kangana Ranaut for ‘unprofessional conduc...

Recently posted . 8 views

Taapsee Pannu Wants to Play Cricketer Mithali Raj on the Big Screen

Taapsee Pannu has appealed to the media to endorse her for the titular role in Mithali Raj’s biopic.

Recently posted . 5 views

Punjab: Rapper Honey Singh booked for objectionable lyrics in his song...

The Punjab Women Commission had filed a complaint against the singer for allegedly using ‘vulgar lyrics against women’.

Recently posted . 30 views

'Super 30' will bring prestige to Bihar: Anand Kumar

The Patna-based educationist and mathematician, has earned recognition throughout the world for his work in providing free coaching to underprivileged children fo...

Recently posted . 18 views

THROWBACK TUESDAY - Karisma Kapoor: Abhishek Bachchan proposed me with...

Abhishek Bachchan and Karisma were nothing less than a Bollywood royalty. The two dated for good five years before getting engaged in 2002 on Amitabh Bachchan's...

Recently posted . 12 views

Ram Kapoor is unrecognisable as he posts pics post a massive body tran...

Actor Ram Kapoor has gone from flab to fit. The TV actor has shared photos post his body transformation and Twitter cannot stop applauding.

Recently posted . 23 views

 
 
 

Prashnavali

Thought of the day

"The trouble with not having a goal is that you can spend your life running up and down the field and never score."
Bill Copeland