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My 4-year-old apologises, but does not really mean it, how can I make it meaningful?

At age four, your child is still quite self-centred about most aspects of life and empathy is only understood later on in development. It is only at the age of six or seven that children are able to understand what other people are going through. Even though your child is unaware of the emotional impact of doing something wrong to someone else, there will be acknowledgement of the deed. Your child will display discomfort, embarrassment and feel guilty about it.

To make the apology mean more to your child, encourage actions in the form of gestures, rather than just using words to apologise. Giving the affected person a hug or shaking their hand is a more tangible way for your child to say “sorry”. If your child has done something like deliberately tip over their toy box as an angry response, get them to help tidy up as part of their apology.

If you teach your child to apologise using the correct words and repeat the format often, they will learn it. If your child is fighting with a friend or playmate, initiate an apology by suggesting the appropriate verbal response, or course of action. Make sure that it comes from your child, not from you directly. Always praise your child for apologising on their own, or for admitting that they have done wrong.

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