When "Sorry" Isn't Enough: Teaching Kids the Five-Step Apology

The fall season marks a fresh start for children and families settling into new school year routines. It is also a religious season of reflection and forgiveness beginning with the Jewish New Year Rosh Hashanah and ending on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

Two boys hugging.

As we think about clean slates, it’s also an opportunity to reflect on wrongdoings and evaluate how we can make amends with family members, friends and colleagues. Whether small infractions like forgetting an appointment that caused an inconvenience or deep betrayals that caused emotional pain, sometimes “sorry” just isn’t enough.

The need to make an apology often stems from having made a promise to do something or act in a certain way. The promise is an agreement. And when the agreement is broken, it sets the stage for a proper and complete apology to set things right.

We may often instruct children to “say ‘sorry’,” and they may oblige. But how can we help kids develop empathy and build strong friendships with peers?

The following steps for delivering a meaningful apology can heal relationships as well as help model honesty and respect for the children in our care.

STEP 1: Repeat the original promise to the person.

STEP 2: Tell the person what you did wrong; then apologize.

STEP 3: Ask the person, “How did breaking my promise affect you?” and listen without defending yourself or disputing their feelings.

STEP 4: Tell the person why you did what you did.

STEP 5: Offer to fix the situation and explain the action you will take to prevent repeating the wrongdoing.

Adapted from How To Apologize And Fix Things When You Break A Promise © 2016 by Connection Matters, Inc.

Looking for more tips?  

This book list offers age-appropriate suggestions for teaching empathy to kids and teens.

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