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Teaching Kids to Say "I'm sorry"

Your preschooler whacks her playmate but doesn't think to say she's sorry, even when her pal starts crying. So does this mean you're raising a psycho? Not at all -- she's a normal preschooler who doesn't realize that other people have feelings, too. "Because preschoolers are still egocentric, they don't fully understand that their behavior can hurt another person," says Michele Nealon-Woods, a psychologist in Los Angeles. Teaching the art of apology helps younger children realize what it's like to stand in someone else's shoes—empathy, in other words. Some easy ways to go about this:

  • Set a good example. When you owe your child an apology, look at her eye to eye and keep a serious expression on your face. This will get her attention and emphasize the importance of what you're saying, and she may begin to imitate you when she upsets someone.
  • Put her feelings into words. Offer a guess about how she felt when you lost your cool and snapped at her ("You were probably scared when I yelled at you"). By considering her emotions, you're demonstrating empathy.
  • Ask for specifics. If she needs to apologize, have her say what she's sorry about and why ("I hit Wally, and that made him sad"). She'll start to see cause and effect and realize that her actions can actually have a negative impact on people.