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Making Kids say Sorry - Issue 336
March 07, 2014
Hi there! ....


This week: we had a great study week – even though Monday was a public holiday. I like reflecting back on weeks like this because we’ve had to be flexible, we’ve had to change plans, we’ve had heart issues to talk about, we’ve had interruptions, we’ve had distractions, and yet we’ve also had good study times, good family times, we’ve got projects happening, and life skills being addressed. Overall a good week! A personal highlight was being asked to go up the river with friends – I left my family at home, and had a lovely day seeing God’s creation and being with friends – the kids joined us later in the day for some biscuiting. We also had our yearly homeschool concert which was a highly entertaining night with a variety of acts. Highlight was a little 3year old who sang a song as she composed it on the spot. I love seeing how the kids perform more confidently each year.

Live life with your kids!

If you are a new Australian reader I would appreciate you reading this special request.


Making Kids say Sorry

A while back I read about a day-care center that was no longer going to make their kids say sorry. They felt it was an ‘ineffective punishment’ and since the kids didn’t understand or mean ‘sorry’ they felt they were not really helping the kids get along. There’s a little bit of truth here based on a lot of false assumptions.

I am sure the kids don’t mean what they are saying (true) but:

  • Saying sorry isn’t a natural response – kids won’t just do it one day
  • Saying sorry won’t change behaviour
  • Saying sorry isn’t a punishment.

Saying sorry is a relationship building phrase – it needs to come from the heart. That means it needs to be based on a belief, on an understanding, as well as on an emotion. We cannot just say it, parrot fashion, and expect it to fix things. We cannot be forced to say it – well we can, and parents often do, but it won’t change anything, because it is just words, the heart hasn’t be touched.

When something goes wrong in a relationship – be it a swipe of the hand of a toddler, or a snatch of a toy, or mean words, or not wanting to hangout with someone – something has gone on in the heart. Generally a selfish something! The heart has lost the belief that all people are special, that we are called to love all people; instead the heart is focusing on self – I’m not happy, I want that, I’m important, I don’t have to!

Simply being forced to say sorry, won’t teach children to be other centered, or help them in empathy or compassion. Though our voluntary words come from our heart – the words we are made to say are just academic – they come straight out of our mouth, not the heart.

This is where the day-care center made an assumption – because it isn’t heart-felt, then it isn’t real, then it doesn’t need to happen. Wrong.

As parents, we need to teach the heart.

  • We need to teach that others are special. In our family we taught that God made everyone, and he loved everyone and asks us (tells us) to love others too. This is establishing the value in our kids’ hearts. The values they in their heart, will dictate their choices. If this value isn’t there in the first place, then there is no premise to hurting people or saying sorry.

  • We need to teach that our actions have consequences. That when we love, there is harmony, and when we are selfish, there is broken relationships, or hurt feelings. I used to explain this to my kids by putting my two fists together, thumbs upwards (it makes a heart-ish kind-a shape) and explain that this heart was like our two hearts together – but when they were mean or selfish, the heart was broken.

  • We need to teach that we can do something about it, that we can mend relationships and help people feel better, help bring our two hearts back together.

This is where people start thinking that saying sorry is the punishment. It isn’t. Saying sorry is a mending word. A whole lot of heart-thought needs to happen before anyone can say sorry. If we miss this process then we are just going through the motions and there will be no change in our kid’s behaviour.

A punishment, or consequence, is to help our kids understand the importance of the value they have abused or missed. When our kids broke a relationship with their selfish actions, the punishment was that they could no longer enjoy that relationship, and because relationship with each other was the foundation of all we did, they couldn’t really be a part of that activity either. So when they were selfish and unrepentant, they had time away from their activity. During this time, I would visit with them regularly, helping them process their heart. When they were ready to put things right, then they were free to do so, and were welcomed back into whatever we were doing.

In order to put it right they needed to:

  • Confess what they’ve done
  • Acknowledge that it was wrong (and why it was wrong)
  • Ask for forgiveness

This looks like: I am sorry I yelled at you, that was wrong of me, I wasn’t showing you respect, will you please forgive me?
Of course little kids can’t verbalise all this, but that is what we are building up towards. With 3-5 year olds, I would pose them questions: What did you do? Why was that wrong? What happened when you did that? How can you fix that? (One question at a time) And as a side note, if your older child cannot process their heart and come to an apology, then they too need these guided questions.
For the toddler, the 1-2 year old, I would say something along the lines of: That was not kind, and you need to sit here till you can be kind (or often I say “have a happy heart”). Meanwhile they are crying their little eyes out cause you have removed them from what they were doing. But they understand, and can quickly have a change of heart, though they are unable to communicate it in any other way than a soft body, a smile on their face and a willingness to cuddle.
Saying sorry is a process and when they go through this process – when they think about their actions, when they think about how that affected other people, when they think about what they can do to make it right – and then do something about it - there will be change in their behaviour. This change happens, not because they said sorry, but because they have recalibrated – they have reviewed their actions in light of their values, they have seen the consequences of their actions, and have decided to get it right.

There is a difference between regret and repentance. Regret is sorry that they were caught, or inconvenienced. Repentance though is a heartfelt sadness that they don’t want to do that again. This heart felt sadness, leads to an apology, and a desire to do it right next time. (To be honest, toddlers probably are only regretting. They don’t have the where-with-all to fully process the moral implications of what is going on – but it is a start. This is why things happen over and over and over with a toddler.) If there is no change in an older child after a heart process and an apology, then more training needs to happen.

Three things are happening when our older kids keep doing the wrong thing:

  1. They haven’t really meant it when they’ve said sorry – they need more heart reflection time, maybe they need to see and understand the implications of their selfishness more.
  2. They don’t know how to act differently; they don’t have the skill to make a different choice. We need to teach them
  3. They don’t have the self-control to make the right choice. We need to help them.

Just because kids don’t mean it or don’t change after saying sorry is no reason why we should not introduce this relational key and start helping our kids to build strong healthy relationships. It won’t just happen, kids need to see it modelled, then we need to teach it, help them practice it and then expect it. Relationships in our family and beyond will be better off when we all take responsibility for our actions towards others.


During the week I blog at Live Life with Your Kids! This week I posted:
  • Working with a Discipleship Scope and Sequence
  • Last week's wrap up - this week's will be post on Sunday
  • Or maybe you'd like to read something from my website:

    Check out other homeschool and parenting issues over at my website, Lifestyle Homeschool



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    Blending Life with Lessons e-book - Does your everyday life challenge your homeschool ideas? This is my journey as I discover that it is possible to disciple my children in today's busy lifestyle.




    Heart Focus Parenting book/e-book - A heart focused parent will keep their attention on their child's heart for God, instead of on external behaviours.






    Restoring the Heart, Mind and Soul of Christmas Do your Christmas celebrations line up with what you believe? Do your celebrations help your children learn more about Jesus?

    This e-book is based on a workshop I held for a couple of years to help families see that Christmas can be a significant tradition in our family life. If we are intentional about how our family celebrates we have the opportunity to use this time to teach our children about Jesus, and his love for each one of us.




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    Belinda Letchford
    Living life with her kids in Australia!


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