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Was He Really Sorry?



Ken and Ben are siblings who seem to always be at war! They get into a fight. You break up the tussle, and then demand they apologise to each other. The older sibling glares at the younger one and with a forced, begrudging and sarcastic tone and a snare on his face, says, “I’m sorry.”


Was that really an apology?!

His comment was merely a continuation of the original battle, but on a verbal level. The two will most likely slug it out again as soon as your back is turned! So they go again,

“See how he looked at me?”

“He stuck his tongue out at me first!”

“That’s mine”

“No it’s mine”

“I took it first”

“I used it last”


Mom and dad have used several tricks and hacks to get the boys to live peacefully together. Each time, just as the fight in progress seemed settled, in moments soon to come, another takes to the uproar.


Familiar right? I bet!

Siblings at war is perhaps one of the highest causes of stress and guilt for parents. In a bid to ‘settle’ a fight, parents usually come in to break the tussle and demand the perceived ‘guilty’ child to apologise. Children, been as smart and manipulative as they come, soon take advantage of this ‘model’ and before you know it, a child (the one who often times, is the first to report and so received the apology), at the slightest disagreement or perceived injustice or provocation, marches forth to report the ‘troubleshooter’. This unfortunately causes most parents to unintentionally, slip into a mode of taking sides, labelling a child and causing further rift.

If you are currently asking kids to apologise and that routine is working well, good for you!

Keep in mind however, that many apologies are really an exercise in hypocrisy. If you insist on an apology, make sure that you are not simply asking your kids to lie!

How many times have our kids given the obligatory “I’m sorry” when we know good and well that they didn’t really mean it?

You know the drill… child does something unsavory to a sibling or friend and mom/dad require that an apology be issued. The child grudgingly complies with a half-hearted “I’m sorry” so he can “check it off the list” and get on with his business.

Teaching Kids How To Take Responsibility For Their Actions And To Sincerely Give Apologies Requires These Principles:

  1. Wait until everyone is calm before having a discussion about apologies!
  2. Don’t “shame” or punish the child for his mistake. This takes the focus off of learning for the future and the importance of “making it right” with the other person.
  3. Help the child process what he was feeling. For example, “What/how were you feeling before you hit Ben?” This teaches him to take responsibility for his feelings. If the child is too young to identify the feeling, you can help “label” it by saying, “It looked like you were really angry.” This reinforces that feelings are okay, however, the action that followed was not.
  4. Tie the child’s feeling to the behaviour and the effect it had on the other person. “When you felt angry and hit Ben, how do you think that made him feel?”
  5. Focus on solutions to “make it right” with the injured party: “What do you think you can do to make it right with Ben?” It can be an apology if it is heart-felt, but children often learn more by doing something to make the other person feel better – perhaps writing a letter, drawing a picture, etc.

Helping children through this process teaches them that:

mistakes are wonderful opportunities to learn

feelings are okay although some actions are not

taking responsibility for your actions and making it right with the other person is an important part of being a friend or part of a family

Following this process will help your child learn empathy for others and teach him how to take responsibility for his actions. Give it a try!




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