Conflict Resolution 101: 9 Tips to Help Teach Kids to Apologize

Saying sorry is really hard to do for anyone, but practice makes it easier.

If apologizing is difficult for us grown-ups to do, then you know that for little beings with proportionately little emotional self-regulation, it’s even harder. Fortunately, humans have a long run teaching kids to say sorry, and the generations have passed on some very effective life hacks in the art of the apology.

  1. Model it yourself. Sometimes because we are in charge, we forget or minimize our own mistakes. It’s important to own up in front of your kids so that they see how it is done. That is especially important when the offense is high-stakes or close to the bone. We often lose it on our kids, our parents, or our partners. It’s so crucial that our kids see us taking the high road and admitting when we have done something that affected someone else.
  1. Encourage them to take a minute. When things get heated, let the kids get a little temporary distance, take a few breaths, and regroup. That pause is often enough time to settle the dust and see what happened.
  1. Don’t insist on superficial resolution. If you force the offender to apologize, then force the offendee to forgive, neither of them will be satisfied and will both walk away bitter. Grownups do this all the time too, but if you make kids bury the hatchet, it won’t actually be done.
  1. Talk them through the tough part. Empathy is an ongoing acquisition, so mirror discomfort: “It doesn’t feel good when someone shoves you, right?” and let them arrive at the regret naturally. If they resist, they need a little time alone to think about it.
  1. Listen to both sides. Unless the slight was a total accident, kids usually don’t mean to hurt their friends’ bodies or feelings. Let each person talk in turn and come to an agreement to share, take turns, not hit, not name-call, or whatever it was that caused the friction.
  1. Use the word “forgiveness.” This simple but powerful word is seldom exercised and yet it can do so much good if we really allow ourselves to experience it from both the giving and receiving end. Utilize this word and make sure they understand it.
  1. Be aware when they are using the “I’m sorry” free ticket. As with adults, kids can sometimes be flip about an apology, using it as an easy way out. Make sure they are recognizing their classmate’s discomfort and understanding not just that they did something wrong, but why it was wrong.
  1. Stay in the present. Often the argument can devolve into “He did this, she did this” and there is a point at which it makes sense to say, “Ok, we know what happened and why it did, so now we need to make better choices.”
  1. Form an agreement. Moving forward is part of the impulse with apology, so facilitate that by agreeing to make better choices. Kids need directives, not warnings, and they often jump on the opportunity to move from the uncomfortable place of hurt to a place where they have a second chance.

Kids are enormously resilient, and even though they are still forming the aptitudes to sense others’ distress, resolve conflict, and express emotion safely, they will surprise you every time, given the opportunity. It’s always a great reminder for us too as adults, that an apology can perform small miracles in making everyone feel like their feelings really count.

About Susie Almaneih

Susie Almaneih spent several years during her young adulthood teaching children dance at her church group, as well as other cultural-based activities. Susie now spends as much time as she can giving back to the families in her community. Over the years, this love for community has evolved into a deeper love for delivering positive and creative content and awareness to families of all ages.

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