Q: Your kindergartner treated a pal poorly. Do you make her apologize or is that a pointless gesture at her age?
(from our panel of staff contributors)
Kindergartners are old enough to understand when they've done something wrong, and you can't start teaching empathy early enough. I'd certainly suggest an apology if it's warranted. (And, I guess, insist on it if the circumstances demand that.) The hope is this child lives in a home where family members young and old apologize when they've hurt someone. We all have to say "I'm sorry" sometimes.
No question: Apologize! Misbehaving kids should be taught to say "I'm sorry" as soon as they learn to speak. It's a phrase, when used sincerely with eye contact, that diffuses a lot of tense situations in life. Imparting this lesson early and often is good parenting.
Make her apologize. But resist the social pressure to force her to blurt "sorry" within a split-second of the offense. Giving her a few more seconds, however interminable, to think about why she needs to do it might add some authenticity. Still, saying it robotically under duress is better than not at all. A conversation about it afterward is in order.
There's imparting parental wisdom, and then there's saving face in front of the other parents. There might be a little of both at play here.
"There is a societal norm about encouraging your child to 'say you're sorry,' " says clinical psychologist Erika Carpenter Rich, who runs social skills workshops for children in Los Angeles. "While it is not a bad idea to keep with these societal norms, it is more important to use these opportunities for perspective-taking."
The larger lesson, of course, is why the offending behavior offended in the first place. And why it shouldn't be repeated.
"Remorse is a complicated emotion that young children will have a difficult time identifying and expressing on their own," says Rich.
Give this a try:
" 'Look at Johnny's face. He looks so sad. Johnny is sad because you took his toy car,' " she says. "And maybe follow-up with, 'What can you do to make Johnny happy?'
"This is a great opportunity to teach your child about feelings and how to take care of his or her friends," she says. "It inspires empathy, which is at the core of a child feeling true remorse."
Ideally, your child will suggest an apology as a way to make his or her pal happy again. If not, you should suggest it.
"But if a parent finds themselves in a battle of wills to get their child to apologize, it is probably not worthwhile to pursue that battle," says Rich. "It's more worthwhile to pursue avenues of building more empathetic responding through role plays and perspective-taking activities."
And if your kid isn't budging, feel free to jump in with an apology of your own.
"The parent in these situations can then say, " 'I am sorry that Timmy took your toy car,' " says Rich. "And then remove your child from the play situation."
Got a solution?
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