Children as young as 2 – 3 years of age will spontaneously apologize if they believe they have damaged an object, and their use of apologizing will gradually increase during the next few years.
Preschoolers as young as 4 years of age understand that offering an apology to an offended friend can help make that child feel better. Playmates who apologized for misbehavior are also viewed in a more positive light by preschoolers, and even at this young age children were able to note the difference between spontaneous apologies and those that were ‘coerced’ by a parent. (Smith, CD, Chen D. Harris PL. When the happy victimizer says sorry: Children’s understanding of apology and emotion. Brit J Devel Psych. 2010; 28:727-746.
Researchers differ in whether a parent should force a child to apologize, and since children as young as four years of age were able to differentiate the sincerity of apologies that were spontaneous versus encouraged by parents, it may be more beneficial to help your child see the other child’s point of view, visualize the hurt, and learn to empathize with the offended friend so the apology will be sincere. Helping your child to make amends for the offense can be a more positive step.
Sibling interactions will provide many opportunities for preschool children to learn the concepts of asking for and receiving forgiveness. Remember, before a person can forgive another, the emotion needs to be recognized. “I am so angry that you took my toy, but I forgive you.”
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