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I am an overapologiser, and I have accidentally as a dad, taught my 3 year old son to do the same.

This is out of courteous behaviour: I will say to him "sorry, x; I forgot you were waiting to", or if I knock into him a little I will say "sorry, x" and lots of other situations as well (fyi, we didn't name him x). I tend to do this a lot as I am a very considerate person, and empathic. I also verbalise my thinking for him to learn from and about. I do however also find being assertive difficult because of fear of confrontation, though I am improving there.

This has led to him habitually saying it over very minor things like "sorry Daddy, I forgot you were getting a towel", or "sorry Daddy I had the wrong toy" etc. It's a pretty ingrained habit now.

Now, I think there's nothing really wrong with saying sorry, as long as you're able to be assertive as well and understand the difference: one is acknowledging that you've caused a trivial inconvenience to someone, and one is feeling bad for something they've done. He does the latter just fine.

To combat this we're taught to thank someone, rather than apologise to them: don't say sorry I kept you waiting, say thank you for waiting. But that's a rather blunt tool in this context.

Any ideas on how to break that habit for him? It seems to me to be quite a mature concept. I appreciate that the change is likely to be something to do with my behaviour since I'm acutely aware that he learns by what I do and how I treat him, and other people rather than what I've told him to say.

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    I think he (and you both) sound wonderful. I apologize to my dogs when I bump into them or cause any pain (and do so emphatically, turning to pet them and reassure them it was not intentional), as well as saying "Please" and "Thank you." I apologize to people in the same manner (well, I don't pet them...), and don't consider myself overly apologetic. But I am most assuredly assertive. Being empathetic and being able to voice your preferences - emphatically if need be - are (imo) two different abilities.
    – anongoodnurse
    May 21, 2021 at 15:47
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    I also think that maybe saying "Thank you for waiting" when it's actually you who forgot to do something is kinda but not quite blame-shifting, but can easily move in that direction.
    – anongoodnurse
    May 21, 2021 at 15:54
  • aw thank you @anongoodnurse I really appreciate that. Thank you, I suppose I could explore how to teach him assertiveness, which will ultimately come from myself... thank you!
    – ja_him
    May 27, 2021 at 10:27
  • relevant? or not really? boredpanda.com/stop-saying-sorry-say-thank-you-comic-yao-xiao
    – BCLC
    Jan 23 at 10:44

1 Answer 1

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As you've identified, your son has picked this up mostly by example - he mirrors and learns from you and any other family in how he behaves and speaks. It's also something that has to be replaced with other types of speech and behaviours, one way or another.

  1. I'd suggest that this will most likely self-correct as your child begins to spend more time with other children in other settings, who are not quite so polite. Yes, to begin with he'll continue to "sorry" at every occasion, but he will most likely adapt by mirroring the behaviour and speech of the children around him.

  2. Avoid highlighting or drawing attention to the behaviour, and correct it gently, in a way that encourages the child. If you can keep the moment positive, it's usually easy enough to correct a three year old by gently demonstrating what they should say. If he says "sorry Daddy, I forgot you were getting a towel", just smile, put on a cheerful voice and say "say: I forgot you were getting a towel, Daddy!" and then when they repeat it, smile and celebrate with them somehow to show how happy you are with this way of behaving.

I suspect the thing that you find most concerning is the negative aspect of the child's phraseology, that it's self-deprecating. So if you can replace it with positive spins on the same situations, it teaches the child that this isn't a shameful situation, and is something they should respond to cheerfully.

Kids change their language and behaviour all the time, and 'try on' different patterns and phrases. So you've still got plenty of time for him to reshape this attitude. It may be 'pretty ingrained' today, but that can change fast at this age and stage.

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  • thank you... great answer
    – ja_him
    Dec 6, 2021 at 9:25

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