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Sorry parents: Forcing kids to apologize isnt effective, expert says
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Sorry to break the news, but forcing your children to apologize every time theyve done something naughty could be the wrong approach. - photo by Jessica Ivins
Sorry to break the news, but forcing your children to apologize every time theyve done something naughty could be the wrong approach.

Thats according to one child psychologist, who argues that forcing kids to say sorry isnt really effective and could actually promote worse behavior in the long run.

Apologizing can be a great way to make things better between children, but forcing them to do it is teaching all the wrong lessons, Laura Markham told Yahoo Parenting.

Markham, author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings: How to Stop the Fighting and Raise Friends for Life, argues that forcing your children to apologize before they are ready to do so doesnt actually repair the damaged relationship.

In fact, telling a child to apologize over and over can lead them to feelings of shame and anger.

If you ask children what they think of this practice, theyll tell you: When Im mad, I hate apologizing. It just makes me madder. Or, Its lying to apologize when you dont mean it, Markham said.

So what should you do instead?

Markham says the key is communication. Instead of telling the child to apologize, suggest that they go to the person they hurt and talk about the problem. Help them see what theyve done wrong and find a way to make it right.

You want to empower your child to see himself as a generous person who can make things better when hes done something hurtful, she said.

After the situation is under control, insert the apology. If your child isnt quite ready, apologize for him, but let him be present for the apology, Markham said.

I would put my arm around my son and say, We are so sorry that Gabriel hurt you; he forgot to use his words. Were so glad you feel better, she said.

Its important for the hurt child to receive an apology, and for the other parent to see that youve stepped in and made amends. But its equally important for your child to have some time to cool off, think about the situation and craft an authentic solution.

Give him some ideas, but ultimately let him choose what he might do to make things better, she said.

Markham says that apologies shouldnt be taken out of the picture altogether sorry is a crucial tool in relationships but that children should be provided the chance to learn from their mistakes.

Additionally, parents need to lead by example.

Children learn from us how to repair relationships, she told Yahoo. Be sure that when you and your child have a relationship rupture, you apologize and find ways to reconnect.

A Harvard study, released this summer, offered five scientific ways to raise kind children. Researchers suggested:

  • Develop a caring relationship: Have meaningful conversations with your kids, spend regular time together and invest time in building that bond.
  • Practice makes perfect: Teach your children to lend a helping hand and give them opportunities to serve often.
  • Zoom in and zoom out: Help your children expand their circle of concern. Teach them to listen and help and learn to view things from another persons perspective.
  • Set a good example: Treat others the way you want to be treated. Be a good role model by serving often, apologizing when you make a mistake, and taking care of yourself.
  • Learn how to deal with destructive feelings: Teach children how to handle negative emotions in a healthy and productive way.
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