Teach a Child to Apologize Effectively

This is a skill that many adults haven’t mastered.  They weren’t taught how, or they cannot bear admitting that they have wronged someone.  Kids apologize without more than a “Sowwy” and rarely are required to do more than that.  We fail them if we let that happen.  It is a short trip from a hurried and mumbled “Sorry” to being ghosted.

If you have ever been ghosted by someone, you have almost certainly seen and felt the consequences of someone’s inability to admit their error(s) and repair things.  Even if the repair is to leave the relationship, being treated fairly and honestly is better than being ghosted..

Kids need us to explain how to apologize well.  And kids with special needs deserve this MORE.  They deserve to be taught well and to see it modeled at home and at school.   For kids with any kind of special need, it is essential, because they already struggle with so much.  They need good social and emotional skills to navigate life.  The kind thing to do is to teach them how to take responsibility for their actions, and also to require others to apologize effectively to them.

Your kid could be the one with the strong emotional and social skills who leads the way!






Here is the 4-step apologizing system that works for everything from accidentally taking someone’s pencil to intentionally destroying their diorama (yeah, that one is pretty common!):

  1. Say you are sorry.  Look the person who was wronged in the eye, and use a tone that isn’t contemptuous or defiant.  Tone matters.
  2. State what you did and why/how it harmed the person who was wronged.  Be specific.  As specific as you can be.
  3. Offer a reparation.  I know that is a politically-charged word, but in this case it is the right word.  Repair.  This could be giving the person your pencil, helping them make a new diorama, and/or paying them for the materials for a new diorama.  The wronged person has the right to reject it or ask for something else.  This is a negotiation.  Remember Solomon’s dilemma?  You can’t ask for their baby as reparation for taking their pencil.
  4. Offer a way to move on.  This could be a handshake, a high-5, a hug, or a turn on a Playstation.  But it has to be accepted by the wronged party.  They are not allowed to hold the apologizer hostage, however.  Again, there has to be negotiation in good faith.  Exacting revenge isn’t cool.

By Cathy Collyer

I am a licensed occupational therapist, licensed massage therapist, and certified CBT-i sleep coach in private practice in the NYC area. I have over 25 years of professional experience in adult and pediatric treatment. It has been a joy to help people of all ages improve their ability to grow and thrive! Occupational therapists are focused on enhancing a client's functioning in everyday life. We are practical healthcare providers, interested in teaching, adapting actions and environments, and building a client's useful skills for living their best life, regardless of their challenges. I am the author of five books, including "Staying In The Room: Managing Medical And Dental Care When You Have DID" and "The Practical Guide To Toilet Training the Autistic Child". I lecture on many subjects, including sleep, trauma, and development. Contact me to learn more about how I can help you achieve YOUR goals!

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