A hug can help mend hurt feelings.

How to Apologize to a 3-Year-Old

by Maggie McCormick

We don't like to admit it, but parents make mistakes all the time. Sometimes the mistake you make involves your child. Apologizing to your child when you make a mistake doesn't make you weak. It models appropriate behavior and teaches your child how to behave when he's in the wrong. Whether you've accidentally bumped into your child when walking by or completely lost your temper, an apology will help make things right.

Position yourself at the same level as your child. Get down on your knees or lift her up. You want to be eye-to-eye for an apology.

Use the words "I'm sorry." Complex language might go over your child's head, and it's important for him to understand what you're saying.

Admit that you were wrong. Being specific in telling your child what you did will help her understand why you are apologizing. For example, you might say, "I shouldn't have yelled at you," or "It was wrong to eat your cookie without asking."

Validate your child's feelings. He may be hurt or sad because of your actions. Let him know that you recognize this and that it's OK to have these feelings.

Comfort your child if she needs it. Some children can easily shake off bad experiences, but others need a little more help. Let your child know that you love her with some cuddles or extra attention.


  • It's best to apologize immediately after you make the mistake. The National Network for Child Care points out that a 3-year-old doesn't always remember past events or understand the concept of "yesterday" or "the other day."


  • Avoid placing any of the blame on your child. For example, if you're apologizing for losing your temper, leave it at that. Don't tell your child that the reason you lost your temper was because she was nagging you to buy her a new toy. This waters down the apology. Save that discussion for another time.

About the Author

Maggie McCormick is a freelance writer. She lived in Japan for three years teaching preschool to young children and currently lives in Honolulu with her family. She received a B.A. in women's studies from Wellesley College.

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