When determining your family’s answer to this question, you will need to go back to the foundation—your own family values. Why does one apologize? When we feel remorseful for our behaviour, we find the courage to ask for forgiveness. This can be a difficult process and is most effective when it comes from within.
If you are directing your child to say sorry ‘in the moment’, you are not teaching, you are forcing them and potentially entering a power-struggle. This is an external motivation and will likely not result in a sincere apology, so the message is not really value-based (remorse, forgiveness, honesty).
Real teaching happens when we are not ‘in the moment’. During family times, when you’re at the dinner table, or on a car-ride, you can introduce the question, ‘What are our values?’ You might ask, ‘What happens if you treat someone poorly? What should you do? How do you make amends? What are some words you can use?’ Families can role-play this for practice.
If your child did something wrong, and an apology was not offered, you can wait for a quiet moment and remind the child, ‘It is still expected that you will apologize to your friend. Will you be writing a note, making a phone call or shall I drive you there? Do you need my help in coming up with what to say?’
Lastly, make expectations known. ‘The next time you hurt a friend, we expect you to apologize at the time. When you choose not to, your behaviour is telling us that you are not ready to go back for another play date.’
If the child is too young to get this, we can model for our children by saying, ‘I need to apologize on behalf of our family for Johnny’s behaviour.’
Remember, your behaviour is the best example for setting family values. Children watch you more than they listen to you.