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Should I Make My Child Apologize?

Laura Kuehn, LCSW
Written by Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Do you force your children to apologize? Is it really anything more than mere words? Here we will explore ways to get to the real issue at hand: true repentance.

We’ve all been there. One of our kids has hurt a sibling in some fashion, either physically or emotionally. If we demand an apology, the offending child may comply with something like this: head hung low, scowl on face, and a barely audible “I’m sorry” with little or no eye contact. He then may dash away with a cloud of anger in his wake. Was this a successful apology? Did it have any meaning at all? Let’s aim higher. Let’s seek to address the heart, not just words.

First we need to talk about what repentance really is. The word repentance implies the notion of “turning around.” If someone is truly repentant, they will demonstrate this with a change in behavior and attitude. They have turned from what they were doing and are now doing something different.

We see this process at conversion. A person admits his sins and helplessness to atone for them, seeks forgiveness and then becomes a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new”). It is the transformation that gives proof that the repentance was real and heart-felt. Without an outward demonstration of or desire for repentance (turning from sin), one may wonder about the reality of the conversion.

The same is true for our children. A true apology is accompanied by true repentance (a change of behavior and attitude) to have any meaning to the giver or the receiver. An “I’m sorry” said with disinterest is much different from an “I’m sorry” followed by a “Will you forgive me?”

Let’s look at an example. Let’s say one of your children intentionally hurts a sibling. You can intervene with a corrective measure. Then, at a time of calm, assess the state of his heart. Get curious and ask him what went wrong. Try to get to the root of the issue. What was he feeling and thinking? Was there something else going for him that fueled his words or behavior?

Next, ask if he feels any sorrow for what he did. If he claims that he does, discuss different ways that he could show his sibling that he is sorry. Explain that his outward attitude and behavior is a window into his heart. Sorry hearts want to make things right.

Some ideas for showing repentance include: serving the sibling lunch or a snack, playing a game of the sibling’s choosing, “donating” a portion of computer or T.V. time, cleaning up after the sibling, doing a chore for the sibling, etc. The child can then approach the offended sibling and say something like, “I am sorry that I hurt you. I want to show you that I am sorry so I am going to read you your favorite story.”

On the other hand, if your child does not show a changed heart and is unwilling to apologize or make amends, talk about the broken relationship that comes from hurting another person. Explain that the person who does the hurting has created a wall between the two parties. It is the responsibility of the one who did the offending to break down that wall. It is broken down when the offender stands humbly on the other side and knocks.

Try to talk to your child about the underlying causes of his unrepentant heart. Does he have past hurts? Is something else bothering him? Would he like to pray? Give him some time to think and process his feelings. If he still chooses the way of a hard heart, emphasize that the choice is his, but that choice will have consequences, not the least of which is a lack of inner peace that comes when one makes things right.

Don’t forget the forgiveness piece in all of this. Privately remind the offended child that he or she needs to be ready to forgive when approached with genuine repentance. We are to forgive “70 times 7” those who do wrong against us. Encourage him or her to see that God’s forgiveness is open to anyone – anyone who is willing to humbly confess his sins and believe He is Lord.

Image by Bessi from Pixabay
This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for treatment from a qualified mental health professional. Cornerstones for Parents is not liable for any advice, tips, techniques, and recommendations the reader chooses to implement.

About Laura

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Laura is a licensed clinical social worker who offers individual therapy to women and parents. Cornerstones for Parents is the place she combines some of her favorite things: writing, parenting and God's word. She is happily married with a young adult son and a teenage daughter.

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  • Thank you for this practical and biblical way of getting to the heart in such an everyday situation!

  • Thank you for this, Laura. We struggle with this all of the time and usually I just get frustrated with the half-hearted apologies. I tend to forget that it is a heart issue that needs to be addressed. I will definitely try to incorporate these Godly principles. It is the only way to have a heart change.

    • Thank you Katie. It is all about heart change, isn’t it? I have been impressed lately with the fact that God (the perfect example of a parent) cares more our hearts than our outward behavior – He wants transformed souls – from the inside out.


  • Wow! I love your down to earth, easy to understand application of God’s Word to this common situation. I just wish more people were reading your material.

  • I have been blessed only after I confess,
    to mirror humility to all the rest and humbily ask our Lord to help us be the best we can be weather depressed or stressed. God never let’s us put Him to the test and we all come out very, very blessed.