Should You Make Kids Apologize?

Should You Make Kids Apologize?

Do you ever “make” your students apologize to each other?

Should You Make Kids Apologize?As a teenager, I decided that forced apologies were stupid and I would never make anyone apologize. (My teenage self  decided that a lot of things were stupid. Stupid was one of my favorite words.) But as a teacher, I have made students apologize, and I probably will again.

For example, back in 2012 I included this little dialog snippet in a story I wrote about my first year of teaching:

“Kaden, you pulled Jennie’s hair. Was that kind?”


“What do you think you should do now?”

“Sorry, Jennie,” he says, and with this display of genuine remorse and repentance, skips back to his seat. Lesson learned, right?

Does Apologizing Teach Kids Anything?

So did Kaden learn a lesson? Did it do any good to make him apologize? He doesn’t seem very sincere in this story. But maybe apologizing made him aware, even for a short instant, that his actions might have an effect on another person’s feelings. Maybe it helped him learn a social skill that could help him in the future.

And what about Jennie? Even if Jennie suspects Kaden isn’t 100 percent sincere, she at least knows I’m paying attention and that I care enough to support her.

Although I no longer think “suggested” apologies are out-and-out stupid, I do think they can backfire.

I am NOT sorryAlthough I no longer think “suggested” apologies are out-and-out stupid, I do think they can backfire. I don’t recommend asking students to apologize if:

  • They don’t think they were wrong. In their minds, you are asking them to lie. Either they will feel outrage at how unfair it is, or they will decide that it’s okay to lie to get out of trouble.
  • They think apologizing is humiliating or weak. The goal of an apology is to acknowledge the other person’s feelings, not punish the person giving the apology.
  • They have no intention of changing their ways. Fake apologies can make the recipient of the apology angry and escalate the situation even more.

When Apologies Are Best

Apologies are best when:

  • They are part of a problem-solving discussion, instead of a scold-and-sorry routine.
  • They are recognized as a way to take responsibility for a mistake, whether intentional or accidental.
  • They are not used as a punishment or consequence. Writing an apology letter rarely makes anyone feel better, except the person who assigns it.
  • They do not erase the need for restitution or consequences. If the consequences were necessary before the apology, they are still necessary afterward.

SorryTeaching students to apologize is not a magic wand that will keep them from arguing or bullying each other. But it can be a way to raise empathy and clear the air.

Do you think it’s appropriate to ask students to apologize to each other? I’d love to hear your thought on this topic.

Now go create a great day for yourself and your students!

Katrina Ayres, Positive Teaching Strategies

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