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Seven Alternatives To Forced Apologies

Ok so originally I planned for this blog to be breastfeeding and early parenting, but when I asked a while ago on Facebook the overall consensus was "more breastfeeding stuff please!"

But when I stumbled upon the article I want to share - I decided it was too good to miss; it sums up what I think without me having to write it

It's called Seven Alternatives To Forced Apologies and I got into this with my first child.  I believed at that time of course it was important they learnt to say sorry! Good manners are essential - I also believed the way to do this was to encourage her to apologise if she did something.

But soon we were in a position where my daughter seemed to think saying sorry excused whatever behaviour it was ie everything becomes ok if you say sorry.  Don't get me wrong I had always explained why we were saying sorry, but the fact is in social situations other parents love children who say sorry - they praise them for doing it, they say "you need to say sorry like x did".  So she would do whatever it was we were trying to discourage, then toss a casual "sorry" into the mix expecting everything to then be sweet.  Another problem with the forced apology is what happens if your toddler refuses to apologise?  Which the odds are at some point (particularly if they don't feel they have wronged) they will do.  Where do you go from there?  Punish for not apologising?  If so surely all this will achieve is one who apologises because they have to?

Around that time I also read Alfie Kohn's "Unconditional Parenting", which discusses how forcing a child to say sorry when they don't mean it, really encourages a child to lie.    Whilst I didn't feel my daughters casual use of the word equated to lying, I agreed with Kohn that sorry is really only of value if the child is actually sorry for whatever they did; the motivation has to be intrinsic.

Anyway the post I want to link to, looks at alternatives to forcing the apology - which are the sort of techniques I switched to when the former wasn't working and also with my second.  Both children now apologise if they feel sorry for something - and refuse if they don't, but that in itself is also valuable.  Sometimes when they are reluctant to apologise and you discuss why - there is a good reason to be heard; which can allow actual resolution of the issue.  Which as they mature is likely to be most valuable?  the ability to apologise even if you don't feel culpable - or the skills to resolve?

Seven Alternatives to Forced Apologies

Playground and play group etiquette often dictates that when your child hurts another child, takes something away, refuses to share, or any of those other behaviors that make parents cringe, you must demand that your child apologize. Even if your child obviously doesn’t mean it.

When Kieran hurts or frustrates another child, I do want to acknowledge and comfort the child who has been hurt or frustrated, but I do not force Kieran to apologize. Instead of teaching Kieran to apologize automatically and without sincere feeling,1 I want to focus more on helping Kieran empathize with others and learn how to play and interact with his friends appropriately.
Here are seven ways to help your child learn both the social niceties of apologies, as well as how to apologize with sincerity:
  1. Connect with Your Child: Try Aldort’s S.A.L.V.E. technique: calm yourself down and let go of your first (often angry or embarrassed) reaction. Give your child some attention; listen to him. Validate his feelings and needs, and empower him to solve his own problems.


  1. I'm so glad you enjoyed the post! And I don't think you are alone in your experience - when I was doing some research for that post I came across a couple of similar stories.
    And I love your summary sentence: "Which as they mature is likely to be most valuable? the ability to apologise even if you don't feel culpable - or the skills to resolve?"

    My thoughts exactly :)

  2. I have a friend who gets the children to say sorry when what they do was accidental, for example, if their sibling or friend gets hurt by them accidentally. However, if they hurt someone on purpose then the children will say "do you forgive me?" as in this case she knows that they are not sorry because what they did they did it because they wanted to.

  3. This is v interesting (as are most of your blogs!!)
    I was worried at one stage because I thought my eldest said sorry too much. (she is 2 and a half but has been saying it for about 6 months or so) She seems to use it in a very adult context. For example if she gets a name wrong "oh sorry not Janey, Lucy" That sort of thing. More like if she makes a mistake. She has used it if she stands on my foot by accident and similar situations also. But I did once try to get her to apologise for naughty behaviour and it was a total battle of wills!!! Don't think I will bother again since reading this!!! She clearly has her own ideas of when to be sorry!!