Should We Force Kids to Apologize?

A young girl with a thoughtful expression, hands clasped together, symbolizing the question of whether kids should be forced to apologize.

The question of whether we should force kids to apologize is a subject of debate. Apologies are often seen as a fundamental part of social etiquette, a way to teach children accountability, empathy, and the ability to make amends. However, the approach to teaching children to apologize can vary significantly, and there are compelling arguments both for and against making kids say they are sorry.

It is important to explore these perspectives to understand the complexities involved in this seemingly simple act.

The Case for Forcing Apologies

Teaching Accountability

Forcing a child to apologize can be an initial step in teaching them about accountability. When a child is required to say “sorry,” they begin to understand that their actions have consequences and that they are responsible for making amends when they hurt someone.

Social Norms and Expectations

Apologies are a critical part of social interactions. By insisting on apologies, parents help children learn and conform to social norms and expectations. This practice can aid children in navigating various social situations throughout their lives.

Building Empathy

Regularly requiring apologies can help instill a sense of empathy. Even if a child does not fully grasp the significance of their apology at a young age, repeated practice can help them develop an understanding of others’ feelings and the importance of repairing relationships.

Strengthening Emotion Regulation

When they apologize, children learn to cope with the uncomfortable feelings that come with admitting wrongdoing. Through this process, they develop greater emotional strength and adaptability, which is important for effective emotion regulation and resilience.

Conflict Resolution Skills

Teaching children to apologize can be an essential part of conflict resolution. Learning to admit when they are wrong and seek forgiveness can help children develop healthy relationships and resolve disputes amicably. Even with siblings.

The Case Against Forcing Apologies


Forced apologies can often be insincere. When children are made to apologize without understanding why, the act becomes a rote exercise devoid of genuine remorse. This can undermine the true purpose of an apology.

Misunderstanding Emotions

Forcing apologies might send mixed messages about emotions and authenticity. Children may learn to prioritize appeasement over expressing their true feelings, which can hinder their emotional development and self-awareness.

Missed Learning Opportunities

Compelling a child to apologize can be a missed opportunity to teach them about the deeper meaning of their actions. Rather than focusing on the words “I’m sorry,” parents can engage in discussions about why their behaviour was hurtful and what they can do to make things right.

Power Struggles

Forcing an apology can lead to power struggles between parents and children. Instead of fostering understanding, it can create resentment and resistance, making children more defiant and less willing to engage in genuine remorse.

The modern approach to parenting, particularly among some Millennial parents, emphasizes respecting children’s feelings. This approach often rejects forced apologies, arguing that they can be useless or even harmful. Forced apologies may be insincere, unnecessary, and potentially damaging, as they might train children to lie, diminish their thoughtfulness, or alienate them from their feelings.

While forced apologies can sometimes be ineffective or unnecessary, they can also serve important functions depending on the context and the child’s temperament. The key is to help children understand that their actions have consequences and that they can actively repair harm by making amends. Children need good role models for meaningful apologies and the opportunity to reflect on their actions to cultivate genuine empathy over time.

Best Approaches to Teaching Apologies

Given the potential drawbacks of forced apologies but the benefits of apologizing, it is important to approach apologies in a way that emphasizes understanding and genuine remorse. Here are some strategies to help you:

Modelling Behaviour

Parents can model appropriate behavior by apologizing when they make mistakes. Demonstrating sincere apologies helps children learn through observation.

Facilitating Understanding

Engage children in conversations about their actions and the impact on others. Ask questions like, “How do you think your friend felt when that happened?” This encourages empathy and self-reflection.

Encouraging Voluntary Apologies

Instead of demanding an apology, encourage children to apologize on their own. This can be done by discussing the situation and gently prompting, “What needs to happen next?” or “What do you think you might want to say to make things right?”

Problem-Solving Together

Work with your child to come up with ways to repair the relationship or situation. This could involve making amends through actions rather than just words.

Teaching Emotional Literacy

Help children articulate their feelings and understand the emotions of others. This can build a foundation for more sincere apologies in the future.

The question of whether to force kids to apologize is complex. While there are benefits to teaching children the importance of apologies, doing so through coercion can lead to insincerity and missed learning opportunities. By focusing on modelling behaviour, facilitating understanding, and encouraging voluntary apologies, parents can foster genuine empathy and accountability in their children. Ultimately, the goal should be to help children understand the impact of their actions and develop the skills to make amends in a meaningful way.

Need help? Reach out to one of our parenting experts to help you with this, or any other questions you have about supporting your child’s emotional resilience.