I’m Not Making My Two-Year Old Apologize To You

Heather Dixon is all for teaching her kid compassion, but she won't insist that her toddler says "sowwy"

I took my toddler to a drop-in gymnastics play place today. It’s basically a free-for-all for the little weebles. They get to run around, jump on trampolines and feel like they’re in Nirvana because they don’t really have to follow any rules.

So, it’s not very surprising that there are tears at a certain point. When you get a bunch of toddlers who aren’t really rational yet, and who are tired of going full-tilt on trampolines, there are bound to be a few disagreements.

Today, my daughter got all up in arms about another kid trying to roll her around in one of the tube-like things she was crawling through. Not a big deal by any means. But my daughter made screeching monkey-fight sounds like her world was ending.

“It’s okay… just come on out!” I smiled at her as she stared at me with a “How could this kid do this to me?” expression on her face. Exiting the immediate area seemed to make sense to her, so she climbed out and we were about to move on.

And that’s when the other Mom swooped in.

She positioned her kid squarely in front of me and my daughter, insisted he face us, and then spent a great deal of time explaining to him that when another kid cries, that’s a sign that they don’t like it. I appreciated her effort and the lesson she was teaching, but her wriggly toddler really just wanted to move on. There were no injuries. All seemed okay. Plus—TRAMPOLINES! They were calling his name.

I stood there awkwardly watching her and her son. I couldn’t just turn around and walk away, as much as I wanted to.

“Oh, she’s totally fine,” I smiled a smile of ‘Heywe’ve all been there, Mama’, in an attempt to make nice. To show her we were in this parenting game together. To show her that I sort of understood the minds of toddlers. They don’t know how to fully socialize yet. They struggle with seeing the world from someone else’s point of view and understanding their feelings. This kid was just attempting to play with mine. She didn’t like it—but he did no harm. Let’s move on.

“No. He has to know that he can’t do this,” she said to me. “You have to apologize right now. Apologize,” she said to her son.

Again, I appreciated her effort. But in that moment, I was expected to stand there and make my two-year-old also stand there silently until her kid decided to say sorry. Something that doesn’t seem easy for toddlers, because let’s face it, two-year-olds don’t seem to have an extensive amount of compassion and empathy at their young age. They’re still figuring their little worlds out.

My daughter wanted to play. I wanted to let this woman parent on her own—not in front of me. And I certainly didn’t want her to expect me to force my kid to do the same thing if the roles were reversed.

Because I’m not going to insist my two-year-old says sorry.

Yes, I absolutely want my kids to grow up to be kind, thoughtful, empathetic people. I teach my 7-year old and 5-year old about it all the time. We’ve talked about kindness and empathy extensively, we read books about it (side note: Willow Finds a Way is a great one for younger kids!), and we’ve discussed how they learn about these things at school.

And then my two-year-old turns around and yells in their faces when she doesn’t get a toy she wants.

Yes, I try to focus on telling her that we don’t yell at others. We’re kind to each other because we don’t want to hurt their feelings or harm them. But I don’t insist she say sorry. Because I know she isn’t. And that would just be a lie.

I’ve seen my two-year-old hit her older sister and then think she can quickly get out of it by saying sorry. The word has no real meaning to her yet. Instead, I want her to know that it’s not okay to do those things at all. Not that she can do them as long as she follows it up with an “I’m sowwy!” (no matter how cute her little toddler voice is.)

If you want to insist your kid say sorry—that’s absolutely fine by me. I don’t care how you parent. I really don’t. As long as you also allow me to do it my way.

Because sorry just isn’t going to happen with my two-year-old.

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