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Help your kids learn to make amends for mistakes

Jen Klein is a New England-based technical writer and mother of three. When she isn't asking her kids to stop bickering, "caramelizing" the dinner or actively ignoring the dust bunnies under the couch, she enjoys knitting, gardening, pho...

Sometimes sorry isn't enough

There are times when a simple “I’m sorry” isn’t enough. It’s hard enough to face this situation as an adult, but it can be even harder for a kid just learning about emotions and hurts and navigating relationships. Everyone needs to make amends at some point -- and your child needs your guidance in learning about this delicate and important part of friendships.

Child learning to say sorry

Making mistakes that hurt others' feelings is embarrassing and hard -- and it happens to everyone. In your child's lifetime, he will hurt friends' feelings and have his feelings hurt more times than anyone can count. Sometimes the hurt is simple, and sometimes it's more complex. Sometimes there's physical damage that must be addressed. And sometimes your child has to make up for what he did, in actions as well as words. Sometimes he has to make amends.

"I'm sorry" is just a start

No matter what the issue or action is that caused a hurt, a heartfelt "I'm sorry" is an important and necessary first step. Whether your child feels badly about the situation and says it a hundred times in two minutes or is so embarrassed that he tries to hide his face and not say it at all, it's a critical part of recognizing that a hurt has happened. When a misunderstanding between friends is simple, sometimes the words are enough -- but when the hurt goes deeper, more may be required.

Material reparations

When your child makes a mistake that causes (simple) material damage, the amends he must make can be fairly obvious. If he accidentally broke a friend's favorite toy, the toy needs to be replaced. Damaged books, favorite stuffed animals and other items may take a little work by you, too, but the cost can come out of allowance, or your child can pay for the items in other ways. Other material errors can take a little more creativity in terms of "fixing" this problem, but it's an effort well worth making.

Actions speak louder than words

Sometimes a hurt happens and it can seem like nothing your child does will fix it. The "sorry" seems hollow to the hurt party and replacing the toy doesn't seem like enough. This is the case when actions speak louder than words and patience is more than just a virtue. Sure, your child wants things to be better with his friend instantly, but the amends will take time.

Your child's hurt friend needs time to process his own feelings -- and consistent, kind and respectful actions by your child are the way to make amends. Patience can be particularly hard for a child, but with careful coaching by you, he can learn not only how his actions reflect his inner feelings, he can learn to understand and appreciate the same kind of respect when it's his feelings that are hurt.

No matter what the misunderstanding or action that caused a hurt, making amends is a part of navigating a relationship. It can be tricky and hard and ultimately rewarding -- and that's why your child needs your guidance.

More on kids and friendship

Kids and friendships: Elementary school years
3 Tips for helping your child establish strong interpersonal relationships
When your child loses a friendship

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