Child experts agree that kids shouldn't be forced to say "sorry" when they do something wrong. However, that doesn't mean kids should be off the hook either. Adults should take the opportunity to teach kids about why the behavior was wrong and about good manners at the same time. Forcing a young child to say sorry after he bites or hits another child, for example, simply forces a lame, insincere "sorry" statement without changing any behavior. So, what should parents and providers do?
- Use the bad behavior as a teaching moment with the child. Experts have many different opinions, but in general agree that getting the child to think about what he has done wrong, why it was wrong, and the impact the behavior had on the other child is the best way to approach the situation. After giving the child time to think about it, then ask what he can do about it to make the wrong right. And, if the child simply suggests saying sorry or giving a hug, well, then it was his idea and it will certainly be more heartfelt!
- Label the behavior as wrong. Parents and providers would perform an injustice if they don't simply and plainly spell out that the behavior was wrong. If not, you've reinforced to the child that bad behavior doesn't really matter and won't necessarily have any consequences.
- Talk about feelings ... alot! By preschool age, kids are beginning to learn about empathy, and feelings often run strong. When a kid learns that his actions caused another child to feel sad or mad, for example, it can have a greater impact than just "getting in trouble." Adults' role should be to help a child to understand, first, that his actions caused another child to get hurt (either physically or emotionally), and then, begin the process of having a child accept responsibility and feel accountable for his own actions.
- Child care providers and partners should partner on teaching the reason behind "sorry." Good communication is a way to help a child on the path to understanding the reason behind feeling the way he does, and of being sorry. Talk about an approach so consistency is applied whether a child is at home with a parent or in the care of a provider. Consistent discipline and discussion lets a child better understand that there are rules and when broken, there are consistent consequences.
- Be sure to show love at the same time. Never let a child feel unloved for doing something wrong. Remember the old adage of, "I love you; just not your behavior!"