It’s relatively easy to teach a child the concept of “please” and “thank you:” you withhold what they want until they comply. It’s markedly more complicated to teach them how and when to say “sorry.”
What is sorry? The admission that you’ve done something wrong and that you feel remorse for having done so. But to a young child—especially a toddler—both of those notions are hard to grasp, let alone hard to embody.
I used to parrot “Say sorry!” whenever one of the girls hurt the other or did something to upset her. Now I go for the deeper lesson. That’s why you’ll now hear me say “Oh wow, that really hurt your sister, what can you do to make her feel better?” before you’ll hear me say what most people expect. They struggle for a moment to figure out what could work and then usually approach with a timid hug and a kiss or a pat on the back.
It’s not always the easiest way to end a battle, but it seems to leave a longer lasting impression. It’s hard work to make someone feel better, much harder than throwing a hasty “Sorry!” as they run away, and I think it makes them think twice before lobbing a toy at the other’s head. I’ll tackle teaching them the social covenance of the actual word when they have a better grasp of the underlying intention.