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Should You Make Your Child Apologize? A Therapist’s View


Like all parents, there are a lot of things I make my child to do.

I make her brush her teeth. I make her to go to school when she doesn’t want to. She is not allowed to ride her bike without a helmet or to walk around the block after dark.

But, one thing I don’t make her do is apologize. 

I realize this is different than a lot of parents. Like many things I do as a mom, not requiring her to say she’s sorry is something that has evolved as I’ve gotten to know the little person I’m raising.

Now before I get too much farther, let me point out that my child is not a brat who goes around hitting kids or calling them names. For the most part, she’s a kind child who deeply wants to do the right thing.

The other day she told me that while she was at a friend’s house, she dropped her friend’s small toy on the carpet and lost it. She didn’t tell her friend what happened.

She felt bad about this, and after holding it in for weeks she asked for my help.

We talked about what happened. I asked her what she wanted to do to make it better, and what would make her feel better. We called and talked with her friend and her friend’s mom about what she had done.

My daughter was sorry, and she told her friend this on her own, without being promoted, requested or required to. 

She genuinely felt bad, and knew that admitting what she had done and working to make it better would make her feel better. She wouldn’t have to carry that burden of guilt around anymore. And of course she felt tons better after confessing her secret and offering to make it right.

What is the point of an apology? 

Have you ever had someone say they’re sorry when you know they’re not? As parents, we want our kids to be polite and to do the right thing. We want them to know how to get along in the world and not stick out as someone who is rude or unkind. But fake apologizes aren’t the way to go.

If you say “I’m sorry” when you’re not, what’s the point? Do we really want to encourage our kids to say something that’s not true for an imagined sense of peace? 

I’m all for politeness and manners. “Please” and “Thank you” are important, as is “excuse me” and other formalities.

“I’m sorry” is not a formality in my opinion. It’s an expression of a feeling.

Forcing someone to lie about their feelings is ridiculous. I’m not saying that we should all go around saying every true thing we feel out loud. Auntie Mildred doesn’t need to know that you hate what she gave you for your birthday.

What we should do is be both compassionate and honest.

I strive to help my child recognize her inner moral compass, because I won’t always be around to tell her what’s right and what’s wrong.

I realize that each child is different, but I do not make my child apologize.

I want her to look inside herself, to think more closely about the situation.

I want her to consider what others feel and to develop empathy and sympathy.

I want her to live thoughtfully and consciously.

As the famous Jimminy Cricket once said, “always let your conscience be your guide.”

My daughter will always have her conscience, because she won’t always have a parent to guide her.  

There will be plenty of people in her life telling her what to do and say. Social media screams from the rooftops.

If I can help her develop and trust her own sense of right and wrong, that is a gift that will last forever, whether I’m around or not. 

A previous version of this blog post is from

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Should You Make Your Child Apologize? A Therapist’s View

Jenise Harmon, MSW, LISW-S

Jenise Harmon, LISW-S, is a psychotherapist with a private practice in Columbus, Ohio. She works with individuals and couples, and specializes in relationship counseling. She's now offering online counseling for residents of Ohio. Stay Connected . Follow her on twitter; and connect with her on Facebook.

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APA Reference
Harmon, J. (2014). Should You Make Your Child Apologize? A Therapist’s View. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 6, 2020, from


Last updated: 13 Oct 2014
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