Should Parents Force Children To Apologise?

Do you insist that your children apologise whenever they put a foot wrong? Or are you of the view that making children say sorry for every misdemeanour actually renders an apology meaningless?

We've all witnessed those toe-curling moments when a parent tries to coerce their toddler into apologising for biffing a friend on the head in an act of seemingly outright maliciousness - but in my experience it's usually only ever a first-time parent that wastes their energy like that.

The rest of us know that demanding apologies from children is a largely futile exercise, akin to nailing jelly to a tree or trying to push water up a hill. That's borne out by recent research too, which suggests that forcing children to apologise can screw up their conflict resolutions skills.

I've certainly lost count of the number of times I foolishly tried to wheedle an apology out of my firstborn when he was little, for everything from not waiting his turn on the slide in the park, to snatching a toy from a playmate.

Sometimes he obliged but I remember one occasion when he wasn't even three years old where I threatened to take him home from the park if he continued snatching his playmate's sun hats off their heads. Inevitably he read that as a direct invitation to test a boundary, and five minutes later I was shoutily demanding that he say sorry and packing up to head home.

Did he learn a valuable lesson about the power of an apology that day? Of course not, and as I marched home - tears streaming down my face at the realisation that I had sabotaged our day out - he was largely oblivious about what had happened.

I suppose I thought I was being a good parent; my intention was to teach my son that apologising when you hurt or upset someone, intentionally or otherwise, is the right thing to do. It's polite, it increases your chances of being invited round to play again rather than black-listed as the little fiend who never says sorry, and it makes your mother look good.

Yes, I realise now that my own self-image and my concern that other parents be impressed by my top-notch parenting skills probably had way too much to do with my past efforts to drive home to my kids the importance of saying sorry.


Since then I've realised that sometimes we might as well be teaching our kids to say 'Bottom' rather than 'Sorry' for all the meaning it really has.


And don't even get me started on trying to elicit an apology from a pre-teen to a parent. A stroppy and contemptuous 'Sorr-eeeee' growled through gritted teeth means nothing.

The other problem with demanding apologies is that doing so can inhibit your child's ability to put things right of their own accord.

Mum of two Victoria agrees, and thinks it's sometimes better for a parent to apologise on behalf of their child to avoid a scene. "That's preferable to a situation where you're forcing a child to apologise, and could end up getting into a difficult public confrontation."

That's a sentiment shared by mother of three Michaela, who has suffered the occasional awkward exchange when her children have been reluctant to say sorry in social settings. But she advocates calmly discussing the issue together in private when everyone has calmed down, if that happens.

"I want my children to develop their own conscience and learn what is right and kind, and what's wrong or unkind," Michaela explains. "Hopefully then when they're older they will make the decision to apologise themselves when appropriate, without me putting words into their mouths."

And as with so many facets of parenting, it pays to admit to your own mistakes readily if saying sorry is a value that you wish to instil in your child. "Children are much more likely to apologise if their parents apologise when they themselves do something stupid," says father of three, Julian.

He's so right; we can't expect contrition from our kids if they never see us getting things wrong - and swiftly taking the right steps to put them right.

But Ernie, father to two grown-up children, cautions against having unrealistic expectations when it comes to teaching kids to say sorry. "I don't know any kid who likes to apologise," he says.


Kids should definitely always apologise to an adult for being rude or when their behaviour is inexcusable, but sometimes it's not totally clear to a child what they've done wrong.


"Sometimes we have to help kids understand what they're apologising for."

These days I relax and regularly remind myself - particularly when my kids are slow to say sorry - that forcing children to apologise can inhibit the development of their own conflict resolution skills. Because while there's nothing uglier than an insincere apology elicited under pressure, there's also nothing sweeter than being surprised by your kid with a considered, heartfelt apology.

Just so long as it's not swiftly followed up by 'So can I not be grounded now?'

What do you think? How do you teach your child right from wrong?