Parenting Resources

Preschoolers: Apologies & Forgiveness

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.”

  • Continue the ideas from the Toddler section –
    • Use emotion words with your child. “I see you are disappointed you can’t have the cookie.”
    • Empathize with your child“Oh, are you afraid of the loud fire engine siren?”  I will stand with you so you won’t get hurt.”
    • Point out how other children and adults are feeling“I think Sarah is sad she doesn’t have a toy to play with.” 
    • Demonstrate how to help others. “Joey fell and hurt his leg.  Let’s find a bandaid for him.”
    • Use the word “forgive” in your conversations“I know you didn’t mean to spill the milk.  I forgive you.”
  • Read stories about forgiveness.  Talk about how stories might end differently if someone did or did not choose to forgive another person.   (Forgive and Let Go!  A book about forgiveness by Cheri J. Meiners is one example)
  • Talk about forgiveness.  How does it make you feel when someone hurts you?  How do you feel if they say they are sorry?  How do you feel when you are angry with someone else?  Does it feel good?  How can you help yourself feel better?
  • Model forgiveness – to your child, to your spouse, to others.
  • Remember to help your child make amends“You knocked over your sister’s tower of blocks.  Let’s help her make it high again.”

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