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My daughter sometimes hurts me. When it's physical, it's pretty much almost always accidental. But sometimes when she's mad, she says mean things that are meant to hurt. If I say "Ow!" or "That hurt my feelings", she will automatically say "sorry", but if she is mad at me that "sorry" will be in an angry "I'm mad at you and you're mean and it's your fault" voice. If I say that didn't sound sorry, it will just start a long verbal fight between us and things only get worse and I never hear a nice voice.

What should I do?

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Don't fight. There's no point. How old is your daughter? –  Dariusz Jan 3 at 13:09
    
This question is about a significantly younger child, but is closely related and thought it might also have some useful ideas - they would just need to be applied with language appropriate for an older child. parenting.stackexchange.com/q/6722/2876 –  balanced mama Jan 4 at 3:04
    
If the behavior doesn't change, "sorry" is just a socially expected noise. Forget about the apology and work on changing her behavior. If she can't associate with people in a kind way, send her someplace boring and alone for an age-appropriate considerable period of time, and consistently. She may decide it's worth treating people nicely in order to be around them. –  Marc Jan 4 at 4:05
    
@Ossum'sMom - Thanks. Here is the correct link: parenting.stackexchange.com/q/10729/2876 –  balanced mama Jan 6 at 15:23
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2 Answers

We demand from my 5yo son he doesn't just say "sorry", but explicitly explains what he is apologizing for, e.g. "I'm sorry I broke that cup", "I'm sorry I hurt your leg". We don't tell him what to apologize for, we simply reject "hollow" apologies until he gets it right.

In our experience, this helps in a few ways:

  • We can easily distinguish between situations where he wasn't at fault due to ignorance; He is unlikely to apologize for hurting my feelings by calling me fat, simply because for him that's just an observation, not an insult.
  • It forces him to imagine how others experience his behavior. This self reflection is a valuable skill in life.
  • The moment is no longer about him; it is about his victimn, making bad behavior a ineffective way to seek attention.
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+1. Question for you - do you offer possibilities of why they are sorry or you have them come up with it themselves? I do the same method but sometimes, I get a blank stare or "I don't know". My daughter is only 32 months though. What do you do then? –  Rhea Jan 6 at 4:05
    
Depends. If we feel "i don't know" is an easy way out, he gets a timeout (age in minutes on the naughty-step), if he honestly doesn't know, we take the time to help him understand. The latter process is quite slow, and stops him from playing, so he prefers to get it right the first time. –  Koert Jan 6 at 12:53
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My daughter went through a phase where sorry was very automatic - particularly when it came to forgetting to do something she had clearly been instructed to do or had agreed to do when asked. The sorries became so automatic they were no longer meaningful at all. I'll admit that at the time she was five almost six or just barely six, but I spoke to her about the idea that sorry means, "I really didn't mean it and I feel bad that I did and I will do my best not to make the same mistake again."

I talked to her about how using a word too quickly, to easily or too often, actually makes the word less meaningful. I made it clear that "sorry" had an implicit promise not to do X thing again, and that when she said it and then made the same mistake again, she was now breaking a promise and hurting my sense of trust in her.

I suggest having a conversation like this - but not during the heat of a fight. If you find yourself going back and forth with your daughter, she isn't going to hear and retain any lesson you might offer as she is too intently wrapped up in her emotions to do so. Instead, I suggest each of you "going to your corners." Saying something like, "I am feeling very frustrated right now and need a little time to calm down and gather my thoughts" to your child is modeling good emotive communication (and is probably honest). Both of you can take a "time out" and come back to the conversation when cooler heads have prevailed.

If, after a discussion like that, she still doesn't apologize in a sincere way - next time it comes up, she'll have to suffer the consequences of lost trust. Sorry, when you really mean it, can actually be really hard for a lot of people to say (one of the reasons I am not a proponent of forced apologies or eye-contact). She'll have to answer the question, "how do I get my parent's trust back?" and she may find offering up a meaningful apology is the quickest and easiest way to do that, but she also might surprise you with an interesting alternative.

After I'd spoken about the promise part of an apology with my daughter, if she offered up a trite apology she clearly didn't mean or hadn't thought too much about, I said, "Should I believe you right now? What are you actually apologizing for and what promise are you making right now?" This, in essence, created a situation where she had to answer in the way Koert describes without actually forcing an apology. Once in awhile she just shrugged at my question (which to me, meant, she wasn't feeling sorry yet, was mad or whatever and needed some more time to mull things over more). Either way, I always made sure to say, "I love you" somewhere in the mix whether I was upset or not. She had to hear that question for awhile before she earned back my trust in her apologies (by showing me she meant them). Now that she has it, she does occasionally still has need to apologize for one thing or another, but a simple sorry suffices because her history shows me that she means it.

Since you end your question with: "If I say that didn't sound sorry, it will just start a long verbal fight between us and things only get worse and I never hear a nice voice." I'm going to assume fights are a problem and recommend How to talk so Kids will Listen, and Listen so They'll Talk It really does offer up some good examples and good advice as well as explain a little about why arguing just doesn't get anybody anywhere. Plus, it is funny. I'm sure the book has influenced how I've listened to and spoken with my students as well as my daughter, and it has helped the parents of many an adolescent I have known.

I am also a huge fan of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Families and find the advice it offers up to the heads of household to be effective in helping parents plot their family's course and deal with the day to day stuff that happens in the trenches in a pretty simple way. Here is a blog about the basic concepts outlined in the book. We've also used The Seven Habits of Happy Kids with my daughter and will probably eventually use the ones for teens with her too.

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+1 for "Should I believe you right now? What are you actually apologizing for and what promise are you making right now?" I like that instead of accusing the child of not sounding sorry (a sure way to start a "verbal fight"), you are asking the child for more information -- less in that for the child to take umbrage at, but not letting it go, either. –  Ossum's Mom Jan 6 at 5:07
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