This is my 2nd post. My first was regarding an issue with toddler hurting my dog. The toddler is not mine and I don't have any other children. I love the little boy and we have a great bond and hopefully me and the mum and 4 year old will be living together soon. Courts are deciding whether they can move 200 miles to live with me and away from dad.

Anyway, my issues are as follows:

When 4 year old is being told off her runs away. When he come's back he gets angry and sometimes shouts at me and mum. He only apologies if there is no other adult other than the one he is apologising too. and it can take up to 45 mins to get him to apologise and it's usually when he wants something (play or treat). We have a thinking corner, but he is rarely put on there as he tantrums. He has started to put us on the thinking corner for simply saying the wrong thing or accidentally bumping him, even if we apologise. He gets angry if we don't sit there. However, he refuses to go himself! When he accidentally hurts us he pretends that he is hurt to try and stop us telling him off. Truth is when he accidentally does anything we don't tell him off and just say accidents happen, but we do try and get him to apologise. He's started getting angrier and the other day he threw his chair backwards at his toys. I feel like even though he is 4 he is intelligent enough to know how to try and deflect any attention from when he has done something wrong, whether by accident or on purpose.

Background: He still sees his dad every week and we have no idea how his dad is with him. Although his dad as been very verbally abusive towards both me and mum including telling me not to have anything to do with his child and telling me that he's not mine. I have re-iterated that I just want whats best for mum and child but he still doesn't like me being with them. He has done a lot to try and break us up and for the first 3 years hardly saw his son. We pushed him into seeing him twice a week which he now does. I know race isn't an issue, but my girlfriend and he boy are African whilst I am white British. We believe the dad is trying to brainwash his son because the boy once said he didn't want me to read a bedtime story because I am not black like him and mummy.

All I want to do is be a good step dad/guardian or whatever I am called. Just need some advice on how to tackle his behaviour/tantrums/anger and lack of apology.

2 Answers 2


I think demanding an apology is generally a terrible idea. An apology should convey that you understand that you have, and are sorry for having, wronged someone. You cannot force someone to feel that way, and without true meaning, the words "I'm sorry" have no inherent value. I wouldn't want to teach that an apology is something you can give without meaning it. If you have as an adult ever been in a situation where somebody has explicitly requested an apology where you have not felt one was due, you might know that this only fosters resentment and disconnect. We should expect the same to hold true for children.

I am also acutely aware that such young children may need pointers to realize when an apology might be in order. I often suggest to my 4 year old that it might feel better if they apologise for something they've done (in practice, almost always to little brother), but I'd never persist if they pass on that offer.

For young children, we should also be attentive to attempts to make amends by other means than expressing an apology. It's not uncommon to see young children act in a manner that expresses that they've understood they've wronged someone and want to do something to repair the damage. This is in essence what an apology should be. So, never demand the words "I'm sorry" when they are devoid of meaning, and conversely, always accept the meaning even if no such words are uttered.

Also, you have already identified some of the circumstances that make an apology less threatening to the child, such as no other adults being present. Don't look at that as a problem, demanding an apology at all from such a young child is already a big ask. Instead, be glad that you've identified a way to facilitate apologies. Always make sure there's just the child and the apologee present, when an apology is due.


When my daughter was about 4, I started driving home the position that actions have consequences. If she accidentally hurts me during roughhousing, a "sorry" is typically enough to defer the consequences. However, if she continues to do so intentionally (or even borderline maliciously), I start to refuse to play that particular game with her, calmly explaining that she had developed a track record for hurting me while playing that game, so I no longer wish to play. It took a while, but she started to realize that her actions had a cumulative effect, and she adjusted them. Eventually it has gotten to the point where she can adjust her actions in response to "accidents," even though they aren't her fault. I keep track of those as successes!

Of course there were consequences for her actions before the age, but this was the point where I started using words to describe how these actions weave together, words like "track record" and "reputation." And, no surprise, it took time for that concept to settle in. It was an interesting balance, making sure apologies like "sorry" were worth something, but slowly teaching that they didn't perfectly erase the consequences for an action, and yet remembering that childhood is all about being forgiven for your explorations such that you keep exploring even more!

I leveraged this concept to deal with anger. I presume my daughter's anger was typical of a four year old, so if yours is extraordinary, my advice may fall flat. We first sought awareness of the feelings of anger. Shows like Sesame Street and Mr. Roger's Neighborhood were excellent sources of examples of how to talk about the awareness of a child's own feelings. We taught her that it was okay to be angry, but used the concept of consequences of actions to remind her that angry actions still had consequences. (Indeed, much later in life we learn they have dire consequences!)

With that spark of awareness in her mind came the hard part. We had to encourage her to find good actions to undertake when angry. I'm certain there's plenty of parenting books on the best ways to do this, but the best we could manage was to try to make one of the consequences of her actions a subtle nudge towards a more constructive way to deal with the anger. It was infuriating as a parent, as the proper outlets needed to be her idea, not ours. Wonderful teachers like Mr. Rogers have plenty of suggestions, but she wasn't prone to them. In the end, our individual child chose to put together puzzles to deal with her anger. I do not judge, and each child will be different!

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