Teaching preschoolers to say "I'm sorry"

On their journey from primitive cave-babies to full-fledged, semi-civilized children, our little ones are bound to bend or break just about every social rule in the book. They grab toys, toss sand, push and swat at other kids who are in their way, yowl when crossed, throw food on the floor and generally behave like the little barbarians they can't help being. As they grow, their offenses become more sophisticated. Knowingly using bad language (giggling madly all the while), refusing to play with certain children, threatening to dis-invite friends from birthday parties and other crimes and misdemeanors become part of the repertoire.

Kids can't help but make these sorts of faux pas. How else would they learn? And so, a large part of a parent's job is to teach them when they have crossed the line, and how to make amends for their transgressions. In this essential, endless process, no words are more important than "I'm sorry."

Like please, thank you and you're welcome, I'm sorry is a cornerstone of the social graces that allow us all to coexist in relative harmony. This small phrase represents taking responsibility for one's actions and empathizing with others, neither easy concepts for a preschooler to grasp.

Indeed, many children learn that they are supposed to say "I'm sorry" before they understand what it should really mean. Here is where parents need to be careful. Insisting that preschoolers parrot the words can be counterproductive. Some children come to believe that simply saying sorry is a magic pass to forgiveness, but we all know the difference between a true apology and an "I'm sorry" muttered with a scowl or petulantly barked as the offender scurries from the room.

Here are a few tips on how to help our little ones learn the fine art of apology:

Taking enough time before saying sorry
Very often, a child who has hurt a friend or flagrantly violated a house rule is just as upset as the person she offended. Demanding an immediate apology when a child is profoundly distraught just doesn't work. Rather, give your child the time and space (a gentle time out, a hug) to calm down and feel regret before suggesting that she apologize or make amends. If you can show compassion for your upset child, it's more likely that she'll be able to feel empathy for her friend's feelings in turn.

Teaching a true apology

Encourage your child to make a full apology rather than simply saying "I'm sorry." "Why are you sorry?" you might ask. A preschooler who can tell his brother that he's "sorry for grabbing your truck and making you cry" really is learning what it means to apologize.

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