Teaching preschoolers about apologies

Mar 25, 2019 7:00:00 AM / by Amber Lappin


I think we've all met someone who is horrible with apologies.  They will say things such as, "I said I was sorry! What's your problem?" or "What else do you want? I already apologized!" These insincere sentiments often make things worse and do little to repair a situation. Why do people grow up thinking that this is acceptable behavior? Sadly, it can sometimes be traced right back to early childhood. 

Picture this as an example:

You're driving down the road, minding your own business, when someone smashes into your car and pushes you onto the side of the road. She gets out, runs to your window, and says "I'm sorry!" And then gets back in her car and drives away....

Would that be remotely okay? Of course not!

Yet, when we force our children to apologize without taking some important things into consideration – we are unknowingly teaching our children that saying "I'm sorry" makes everything okay.  I think most of us would agree, it is not okay. The trouble starts when we leave out some pretty important steps:

1.) We have to ask if the person is okay

Showing genuine concern is the first step when we realize we've hurt someone – either on purpose or accidentally. Teaching our children to inquire about the other person's well being helps develop their sense of concern for others and teaches them that their actions have a direct effect on others.

Example: "You hit Jenna and she's crying- let's go see if she is okay... "

2.) We must acknowledge our part

Sometimes children believe that apologizing is the same as admitting guilt. When we teach our children to profess involvement, we help them to understand that even unintentional offenses can hurt people. Although unintentional, someone was hurt and we must own up to these.

Example: "Let's tell Alex that you're sorry you accidentally hurt his feelings..." or "Say to Peter, 'I shouldn't have been swinging that jump rope. I'm sorry I hit you.'"

3.) We must see if there is a way to fix the damage done

Just like it would be wrong for a person to smash into your car and offer only an apology and not an insurance number, it's not alright to walk away from someone we've hurt (either physically or emotionally) without checking to see if we can fix it.

Example: "Ask Trevor if he needs an ice pack or maybe a cup of water..."


4.) We must apologize sincerely, without rude undertones

Teaching children to apologize with a pure heart takes practice. Saying "I'm sorry" doesn't sound sincere if we try to qualify it – "I'm sorry you think that was rude" or "I'm sorry you got in my way" just adds more pain. Instead, a short, sweet, kind apology should be modeled and enforced.

Example: "I would like to hear you say, 'Sophie, I am so sorry I hit you with my truck'"

5.) We have to repent, which simply means, not doing it again

Nobody will believe we're sorry if we turn around and repeat our same actions. Reminding our children how to avoid doing the same thing again is an important part of teaching them to apologize well.

Example: "Now, let's move your Legos over here so you won't accidentally knock his tower over again"


Although this may seem like a long process, once you get the steps down, they can be run through rather quickly – and the time you invest in your child's apology-making will pay off in the long run.  

Raising kids who don't just "say sorry" to get out of trouble but know how to care for others is a wonderful thing. Maybe they'll be the people wouldn’t behave like the woman in the above scenario, but would instead ask if the person was okay, offer to help them, apologize sincerely, and drive more carefully in the future.

"A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger." - Proverbs 15:1


If you find these steps useful with your preschoolers let us know in the comments! 


Topics: Early Childhood Ministry

Amber Lappin

Written by Amber Lappin

Amber is a speaker and writer with over 25 years of experience in early childhood development and children’s ministry. She works as an associate professor at Mt. San Jacinto Community College in the child development education department, and as a grant program director for two nationally accredited preschools. Amber enjoys "small town" Southern California living with her husband of 25 years, Jason, and their three children.


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