Altercations between young children are common. If parents are around to witness the squabble, they usually ask the aggressor to say he’s sorry. This is a reasonable thing to do because adults are supposed to teach children how to behave in social circumstances. However, most parents have been in the situation where one child does not want to say he’s sorry to the other. What should you do then, especially if your child was the one who wouldn’t say he was sorry?
Not only are you likely to be embarrassed if this happens, but you may also feel a strong sense to force your child to apologize. Encouraging kids to say they’re sorry is logical. Forcing them is not. In some cases, a parent will threaten to take away TV, dessert or other privileges if the child refuses to say he’s sorry.
Although I appreciate the motivation to encourage your child to apologize, if it’s not sincere, it’s not clear that anything will be gained by forcing the issue. My recommendation, in this situation, is to model the appropriate behavior for your child instead of turning it into a showdown. Make eye contact with the victim and say something like this: “I’m so sorry, Henry. We don’t allow hitting in our house, and I don’t know why Ryan did that to you.” You might also consider ignoring your child for a moment and hugging the child who was hurt.
Children learn by experiencing the consequences of their actions. In the above example, you ignored your son and gave positive attention to the child who was wronged. This is only half of the intervention. For the next five or ten minutes, you would watch your son like a hawk so you could give him positive attention for appropriate behavior. Psychologists call this process, “catching them being good.”