After your kids fight, you want them to reconcile and say, “I’m sorry”.

But what if they don’t want to apologize. What do you do?

Do you make your kids say, “I’m sorry”? What if they don’t actually feel sorry?

Do you wait until they are ready to apologize to each other? But what if they’re “never” ready?

When I was a kid, my mom didn’t ask us to apologize. She said that, “forcing kids to apologize is teaching them to lie”.

I’ve always agreed with my mom on this one…And so do many experts, like Alfie Kohn. Because if kids feel sorry, they usually apologize on their own, especially if you’ve role modeled this already.

If kids don’t feel regretful about fighting or hitting then you have a “teaching opportunity”.

There are a bunch of things you can do to teach your kids and help them reconnect… things that are honest and authentic…. With no forced apology needed.

Example – Kids start fighting over a toy

Missy and Max are both 3 years old. Missy is playing with a truck, and Max is next to her building with blocks. Missy leaves the truck on the ground and runs away for a moment. When she gets back Max is playing with the truck. Missy screams and grabs the truck away from him. Max hits her. And Missy hits him back.

1. Help Both Kids Calm Down

Before you help kids reconnect it’s important that they are both ready. If kids are upset, it’s too hard for them to consider the other person’s perspective. If kids are fighting over a toy, you can de-escalate the situation by placing your hands on the toy, so neither child can play with it.

Script: Say, “I’m just going to keep my hands here until we can figure out how to solve this.”

2. Connect Before You Correct

Before you correct their behavior (the grabbing and hitting) you’ll need to connect with both of the kids. Giving empathy to both of them will help everyone feel connected and help them calm down.

Script: You can say, “Max, you look mad. You were playing with the truck and Missy took it away from you.” To Missy, you say, “You’re mad too. You were not done with the truck when Max started to play with it.”

3. Understand the Communication Beneath the Behavior

Max and Missy both hit each other to “say” something. It’s likely that both kids were overcome by upset and sadness, and they hit because they didn’t know how to communicate to the other that they wanted the truck. Because we know that all behavior is communication then we can understand “why” each child acted the way he or she did.

Script: To Max, “When you hit Missy, were you trying to tell her that you didn’t want her to take the truck?” To Missy, “When you hit Max were you trying to tell him that you didn’t want to be hit and you were still playing with the truck?”

4. Help Kids Understand Each Other

Now that both kids are calm and connected, they can begin to understand the other child’s perspective. Finding common ground is helpful. No one likes to get hit. No one likes it when someone else grabs their toys.

Script: Say, “Oh that makes sense to me. You both didn’t want to get hit and you both wanted to play with the truck. You ran out of words, so you hit.”

5. Find a Solution that Works for Everyone

Both kids can offer their solutions. If they don’t have any ideas, you can offer your own solutions. Keep offering ideas until… a.) you find something that works for everyone (including you) OR b.) you run out of ideas.

Script: Say, “What ideas do you have to solve this?” If they don’t have any ideas say, “Is it okay if Max gives the truck to Missy after he’s done?” “Or does it work for Missy to give the truck to Max after she’s done?” If they can’t agree on a solution say, “Sounds like we’re stuck. Come back to me when you’ve got a solution that you both like. I’m going to hold onto the truck until then.” And you can put the truck in an inaccessible area, like a high shelf.

6. Smile

Ok, you don’t have to smile, but it sure makes things easier. We know from Positive Psychology that even a forced smile helps calm and relax the body. When you smile you bring lightness and ease to the moment. If your an “over-thinker” like me, smiling helps me take life a little less seriously. Smile because you are doing something that will help helping your kids to build their social skills.

Using these 6-steps kids can reconnect without blame or shame or forced apologies. The children come up with a solution that works for both of them (and you). And they develop collaboration and problem solving skills.

In the end, the kids are able to understand the other child’s perspective–a valuable social skill–and they’ve learned a way to solve a conflict peacefully.

Looking for more support to find peace in your family?

Check out the Mindful Parent’s Method for Meltdowns. Get on the waitlist! Registration is opening soon.

Looking for more support to find peace in your family?

Check out the Mindful Parent’s Method for Meltdowns.