Apologizing isn’t easy; no matter how old you are! Saying sorry means admitting you were wrong or that you hurt someone, and offering a way to help. As parents, we often find ourselves prompting our children to say sorry for something they’ve done wrong. But what does “I’m sorry” really mean to a preschooler?
The “Me” Phase
Of course, it’s important to note that preschoolers are still in the process of learning their rights from their wrongs. They’re gathering their self-awareness, which means that their first concern is, “Am I okay?” As long as the answer is yes, then they won’t really see that anything is wrong.
Before a preschooler can truly learn what an apology is, they first have to learn to empathize with the people around them. This means learning that when someone falls and scrapes their knee, it hurts just as much as when you did the same thing a few weeks ago!
As a parent, you can encourage this empathy by helping your child to make meaningful connections. While at the playground, point out a child who may be playing alone. “That child looks lonely. Remember when you felt lonely a few weeks ago when none of your friends could come and play?” Making these connections between your child and the world around them will set them on their way to being able to relate, empathize and sympathize with others.
“I’m sorry” aren’t magic words
It’s not uncommon for parents to prompt their children to say that they’re sorry when they do something wrong. This type of enforcement teaches children that all they have to do is say “I’m sorry” and, poof, they’re off the hook!
As parents, we have to dig a little deeper and help our kids to know that “I’m sorry” isn’t the be-all, end-all. Instead of asking for the magic words, make sure your child first understands what they did wrong and why. “Lucy, you pushed Johnny and he fell down. He hurt his elbow and now he’s crying. How do you think Johnny feels right now? What can you do to help?” Starting the conversation in this way helps your child connect the dots. Once your child understands, fully, what they did wrong, they’ll be ready to give a whole-hearted apology.
Sometimes, you’ll have to apologize too
Every once in a while, you’ll have to apologize to your child. Maybe plans to go to the park fell through, or maybe you forgot that you promised them a trip to the ice cream shop. Either way, you’ll find yourself in a situation where you have to model what a good apology looks like for your child.
When you apologize, remember to say specifically what you’re sorry for. “Lucy, I’m sorry we couldn’t go to the ice cream shop today. We ran out of time! We’ll go next week, okay?” This way, you’re giving a whole-hearted apology and you’re offering a solution to the problem.
Apologizing is hard! Admitting you’re wrong, or that you messed up, or that you forgot something is an uphill experience that we all go through, and it starts right from the earliest days of childhood. Although every person, and every apology, is different we hope you now have some additional tools in your belt for the next time your child needs to offer up a heartfelt, “I’m sorry, and here’s why…”
Until next time,