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I can get my son to SAY sorry, but how can I get him to actually FEEL sorry?

My son will be 4 next month and he is SO smart ffor his age! But he is a little aggressive towards his little brother (cause he knows he is bigger!) He will throw a toy or hit or take something away from him. Jordan (my 4 year old) knows that sorry is the right thing to say so anything he does he will say sorry and do it again a little while later! I will put him in time out or take toys away and those work but I know that he never truly feels bad for bad actions... how do I get him to FEEL sorry and make him realize what sorry means? I tell him all the time what it means and talk to him about it but, I dont know, maybe im doing it wrong... any suggestions?

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Asked by ms_jackson at 6:54 AM on Aug. 21, 2009 in Preschoolers (3-4)

Level 2 (4 Credits)
Answers (8)
  • It is a learning process and I think for some kids it takes a lot longer, or they simply don't care! One of the best learning times for my oldest was when another kid hurt him. I told him that was like when he hits his little brother. Daniel gets hurt by you, just like you got hurt by Ian. Maybe it wasn't the most sympathetic way, but instead of offering him a lot of comfort I just kept going over how Daniel felt in the same situation. He really seemed to get it! Also when the younger siblings are crying (maybe just sad, not hurt) I say to my older ones, "he/she is hurting and sad! Let's go take care of her/him.". I love it when one of the kids cry and the others will run over and give kisses or toys to cheer the sad one up! Keep working on it!

    Answer by micheledo at 7:28 AM on Aug. 21, 2009

  • You spank his bare behind hard enough that he feels pain. I know that is considered today by some to be abusive, but it is the only thing that works every time it is properly used. You are not spanking him because you are angry or because you are punishing him. The idea behind spanking is corrective discipline. He has a bad habit that needs to be broken for his own good and for the good of the family. You explain to him today that the next time he hits his brother he will be getting a spanking because this is behavior that you cannot tolerate in your home. Then you do it. You do not give him another warning. You do not threaten. And you do it even if he says he is sorry. In addition to mistreating his brother, he is also learning to lie. You want him to be truthful. You want him to respect your authority. And you want him to be kind to his siblings. So spank his bare butt. Hug him again and tell him you love him

    Answer by NannyB. at 7:43 AM on Aug. 21, 2009

  • Spanking won't teach him how to feel sorry or have compassion!! I don't have a problem with spanking as a discipline measure, but she is asking how to teach her son to have compassion and empathy. IMO that is a continual learning process. One of my sons laughs when the other is corrected. Well, then I have to take the laughing son aside and correct him and teach what proper behavior is. It is constant teaching and demonstrating, and encouraging. To the OP - teach him compassion towards animals too. Even an animal on tv, when it is hurt - "oh, the poor animal. I wonder what they will do to make him feel better?".

    Answer by micheledo at 7:53 AM on Aug. 21, 2009

  • You cant. Their feelings are their own. You can explain how badly he hurt his brother and punish him for it, but the feelings of remorse usually come later. Sometimes the punishment will bring feelings of repentence and thats the point of punishment, be it spanking, time out, taking away priviledges, or whatever. If a child takes their punishment without feeling remorse, then you need to just let them come to terms with it on their own. Explaining how his brother feels is a good start. Teach him to have compassion for his pain and his suffering and usually most kids who are empathetic will understand, but those feelings, you cannot make them feel. Its not your job. Your job is to punish the behavior and to keep him from doing it again, but his feelings are his own. Dont get into the habit of trying to overcontrol. This is a bad move because by the time they are 8 or 9, that overcontrol will turn into a major power struggle.

    Answer by momofsaee at 8:35 AM on Aug. 21, 2009

  • Compassion is learned and it progresses and matures as the brain matures. At this age, you need to explain to him that he caused pain to his brother. If the brother cries, tell him "See, your brother is crying. Why do you think he is crying? Is he sad? Why is he sad?" Ask him to explain his brothers feelings. It teaches empathy. Also, tell him to hug his brother and kiss his owie. If they're playing well together, tell them that. Positive reinforcement is a powerful tool. You could set up a reward system. Something simple, like stickers. If he plays well with his brother, he gets a sticker on a sticker chart. If he collects enough stickers, he gets a special prize (maybe he can help Mommy make cookies). It will take time, but soon enough your little brute will be an empathetic good boy. And of course, make sure that you are setting a good example.


    Answer by MotherofIreland at 10:45 AM on Aug. 21, 2009

  • Cant disagree with any of the other posts. We all have different ways of parenting and effecting change in our children. Children this age are still ego centric and it's still about what they think and want. They are just learning compassion, empathy, etc. It takes time and patience. It won't hurt to make them apologize even if they don't get what it means. But it's the start of teaching to recognize that our words and actions have effects on others for good or bad. Just because some one is the "big" sibling doesn't mean that they automatically mature.

    Answer by jessa1091 at 1:48 PM on Aug. 21, 2009

  • I know what you mean but you CAN'T get him to feel sorry. Why? Because, quite simply, you are not in charge of his thoughts, feelings, or actions. Period. What you are in charge of is role modeling, teaching, safety, and discipline/punishment. Teach him the words and set the consequences so that they are consistent and they fit the situation. Don't over due a situation. Once you have administered corrective action, taught him what he needs to do to make a better choice the next time the situation happens, uses the correct words to tell you what he will do differently next time......let it go. In the mean time practice talking about how others may feel. Cut out pictures in magazines of kids and situations where there are different emotions. Make it a game. Ask what the kid is feeling, make it a story, have him add to it. Have him do a story and guess the feeling.  But the truth is he is in charge of his feelings, not you.

    Answer by frogdawg at 6:37 PM on Aug. 21, 2009

  • Holy wow Nanny! I am so thankful you were not my mother! Wow. That is harsh.

    Answer by frogdawg at 6:38 PM on Aug. 21, 2009

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