Dear Shannon,

How do you do get your child to apologize to a friend when they do something wrong?

The scenario:

My child and another child were at a pool and sharing swim flippers, each child is 5 years old. My child throws one of the flippers in the deep end of the pool when it is the other child’s turn to use them and the flipper can’t be retrieved. The other child is obviously upset. What do I do?
Hi Rachel,
I hear your pain, or maybe more, your embarrassment and wanting to do the right thing. I can assure you, this is every parent’s feeling at this moment. Our instincts tell us to make the situation right, the question is how do we make the situation right for? Us? Our kid? The other kid? The other parent?

From my experience with anyone under the age of 6 year olds, they are stretching out their wings of independence, still with a very limited idea or realization of consequences. Throwing the flipper in the deep end of the pool will have been a total experiment in curiosity. What will happen? Where will it go? This is exciting! This is so different than what we were playing before!! Yeah!!

Parents automatically go to the place of, “They did that on purpose!” “They are being a brat!” “You are being bad!” (a whole other blog post to follow on useless words parents use)

The parent’s Reaction

A parent’s reaction dictates the response you are going to get from the child and how they will now handle this situation in future instances.

I’ll give you the ACE solution first and then the rationale why….

1. Assess the Situation – you as the parent will either know what needs an apology and why or you will have to find out what happened from the other party.
2. Connect before Content – When your child does anything that requires an apology and any of the following variables exist;

  • a) they are under 6 years of age
  • b) they do not initiate an apology
    c) they have shut down and look angry about the situation.

Come along side your child, get down to their level, use a soft touch – put your arm around your child, place a hand on their arm or shoulder (without squeezing – to manage your anxiety, lol)

3. Experience the Solution – State to the other child, “I’m sorry [your child’s name] threw the flipper in the pool. I can see you are frustrated. (angry, etc. state whatever emotion you see going on for the other child), I will go and retrieve the flipper (or whatever solution is reasonable at the time) and to make it right.

~ So all together it looks like, “I’m sorry Jennifer threw the flipper into the pool. I can see you are frustrated. I will go and get the flipper and make it right.”

~You then state to your child in private and calmly, “When you are ready, go and apologize to (other child’s name).

Parenting Rationale

Children of all ages, have the exact same feelings as us, they just don’t have the same amount of experience as adults to handle situations. Typically, we as adults place an unrealistic expectation on kids to;

  • a) assess the situation accurately
  • b) come up with the appropriate response ~ apology on demand &
  • c) remain emotionally intact and carry on.

What children under 6 are experiencing when we say, “You need to apologize right now to Brian!” is the exact same as if your boss at work, or your partner at a party came up to you and said, “You need to apologize right now to Brian!”

Your response typically would be “F$@# You” or you might be thinking it. Your child won’t have the same words, but they will have the same response and feelings. That is why I listed the 3 variables, because even a child over 6 may feel so embarrassed by the situation that they shut down with anxiety. Just go through the ACE steps for any age and then you can
discuss the situation at a later time if needed.
Be advised! You are not, I repeat, ARE NOT  “rescuing” your child or “not making them accountable” or letting them get away with bad behaviour by following these steps. Instead you ARE role modelling behaviour that they will, in future feel very comfortable using on their own when they see an apology is needed. You are actually showing them the correct way how to react. I can guarantee you will be very surprised, AND very proud, when you see your kid roll this out on their own.

In closing, you are not responsible for the other kid in the situation. Leave that up to the other parent to handle. You are also not the Apology Police. Your alliance is with your child and you will build an incredible amount of trust with them, when you show them that you want to help them navigate a stressful situation and that you won’t abandon them or throw them under
the bus, due to your own anxiety about the situation.

You want that trust established as you head into the teen years! Thanks for the question Rachel! Let me know if you have any other questions.


If you would like to work with a parenting coach, connect with a experienced and professional parenting consultant at Parenting with Soul in Canada.

Keep up the good parenting,