Learning empathy: Please don’t force my son to apologize

I might sound crazy for saying this, but please don’t make my son apologize.

My son is 2 years old and is still learning social etiquette:

No, son it’s not ok to take that child’s toy,

No, son it’s not ok to throw your food,

No, son it’s not ok to use your hands to hurt someone,

but does my son need to apologize for his behavior? Not necessarily and here’s why. Every family has a set of core values that they want to instill in there child and take more time fostering that value more than others.  Whether it’s compassion, respect, generosity, kindness, dependability, honesty, or some other value, we as mother’s monitor are children and take the extra foster these values because they our what are important to us.

For me, I want my son to learn and value empathy.

According to the Marriam-Webster dictionary, empathy is “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.” In other words, it’s the ability to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.

As a social service worker and a teacher for over 10 years, empathy is a core value to the job and an innate trait that you need to be good at the job. I have seen the good, the bad and the ugly in my field of work and I am able to get up every morning and go back to work because I have the ability to not judge and help my community. Empathy is an important character trait that I want my son to develop because it will help him develop strong interpersonal skills and help him problem solve which are both invaluable skills in the working world.

Anyone can apologize.

It’s two words, I’m sorry, and then you are off the hook to go play again. What value is my son learning from that?  The words are  meaningless unless he understands the impact of his actions. Only then can he give a genuine apology. Instead of timing out my child and telling him to apologize, remove him from the situation, explain how his actions impacted others and related the situation to him. Instead of saying, “say sorry” say this instead:

How would you feel if he took your toy?

how would you feel if he hit you?

These conversations allow my son to think about his actions and how they affect others, hence empathy. Is my son apologetic for his actions after answering these questions? Sometimes, but not always. Sometimes my son feels his actions were justified. Forcing an apology is not going to fix the problem. Instead, its going to minimize my son’s feelings and disempower him to assert himself in the future. If my son perceived he was in the right then a deeper conversation needs to be had.

You had a problem and how did you solve it. Was there another way?

If he cannot think of another way besides hitting, throwing, kicking, then we have a bigger problem than an apology can fix. My son needs to learn to problem solve and find more than one way to solve his problem. This would be the time to discuss how his actions affected others, how he could use other methods to solve his problem and how he an get back to playing.

Sometimes my son will apologize and sometimes he does not. What I do know is that by teaching empathy, my son, on his own accord has given some sincere apologies without prompting. I don’t know about you but I would take a sincere apology ten times over and insincere one.

What are your thoughts. Am I wrong to not force my child to apologize? What values do you take the most time fostering in your child?