In your interactions with people, have you ever received a hollow apology? A quick “sorry” that was supposed to mitigate the wrongdoing and make everything right again?

You know it didn’t mean anything. It’s like receiving a non-apology apology, and we know how those go. If you’re wondering how people got that way or seem to have no remorse for what they’ve done, it’s them. You may have seen it with your own kids.

Some of this behavior starts early on in childhood. That’s why some parents are taking a new approach when it comes to teaching their kids when NOT to say sorry. That’s right.

Saying sorry and being genuine about it are two different things, and communicating remorse through a forced, empty “sorry” isn’t happening. They’re missing the point.

Think about this first: kids communicate with each other in their own ways. That doesn’t always happen through words. A blog post on Lifehacker recently examined the ability of children to know empathy. As young toddlers, they may not care so much but still show they feel something in different ways.

One way we see this if two kids are playing and one destroys a block tower or game. Tears ensue, but the child who did the smashing starts to clean up the mess and helps to rebuild the original masterpiece. They’re back to playing together peacefully. That’s one way to apologize and make things right.

The blog post cites a book by Heather Shumaker, It’s OK Not to Share and Other Renegade Rules for Raising Competent and Compassionate Kids, that discusses a child’s moral compass and whether young children really understand what being sorry means.

An example would be a child knowing they did something wrong or hurtful but their response is to flee the scene to avoid getting in trouble. Instead of the parent grabbing the child and making them say the word “sorry”, she has a different solution. Here are the steps:

  • Call the child over and plainly explain that the other person got hurt.
  • Point out exactly what your child did to cause the incident and acknowledge the offended one’s pain, asking if she is okay.
  • Have your child own it, offer to make it right with a bandage or repair, and then assure that person it won’t happen again.

Both parent and child should show empathy, but the parent will have to BE the lead example. You’ll have to keep modeling that behavior over and over again so that your kid begins to understand what regret and pain are. Essentially, you’re teaching your child what it’s like to be in the other person’s shoes.

You want to avoid a meaningless sorry by getting your kid to see the whole picture. Chances are as they get older and develop a moral center, it won’t be difficult for them to empathize with others and feel sorry for whatever they’ve done.

You’re not skipping over manners, but instead giving them a global perspective on ownership, acknowledgement, and making amends. Try it with your young one and see how it works!

Do you have a different approach when it comes to apologizing? How do you teach empathy? What do you think of this method?