Encouraging Empathy: How to Teach Apologies to Children on the Autism Spectrum
- Immediately prompt an apology.
- Give the child time to reflect and then prompt an apology.
- Withhold the prompt and let the child decide whether or not to apologize.
The Anatomy of Empathy
- Why is Jordan crying?
- Did you push him in the lunch line?
- Was it an accident? Did you mean to hurt him?
- How do you think Jordan feels?
- You look sad right now. Would you like to talk about what’s wrong?
- What emotions are you feeling right now?
What Was Your Role?
- Why do you think Jordan is crying?
- Is he crying because of something you did?
- How would you feel if someone pushed you?
What Can Apologizing Do?
- An apology can help Jordan feel better and even make you better friends.
- Your classmates are the people you learn and play with every day, and they need to be treated with kindness and respect.
- When we hurt others, we apologize and try to make things right because that’s how we want them to treat us, too.
What Do You Think You Should Do?
What should I say?
- Simple apologies can go a long way. Say you’re sorry for what happened.
- Explain that you’ll try your best not to make the same mistake again.
- Ask yourself if your apology made the relationship better.
What if someone doesn’t accept my apology?
- Know that you did a great job apologizing.
- For some people, an apology is all that’s needed to make a relationship better. For others, it won’t be good enough no matter what you do or say.
- Ask yourself or talk with an adult you trust about your apology. How did it go? How are you feeling about it?
What else can I do?
- Do you want to try something else? Try writing a card or getting another item to replace one that was broken.
- Remember that you did your job, and maybe you can try again tomorrow.
- Focus on what you can do so this mistake does not happen again. A teacher or parent can help you with this.
What can I say if I don’t understand why I need to apologize?
- It’s OK that you don’t understand. I would like to help you.
- Remember that apologies are common. When you hurt someone’s feelings or when you damage something, an apology is an appropriate response.
- Think about times people have told you they were sorry or about apologies you’ve seen others give. Did you feel better?
What if I still don’ t understand?
- You don’t have to apologize if you don’t want to.
- But if you want to, you could say: “I’m sorry your feelings are hurt. I don’t understand how my mistake upset you, but your friendship is important to me. I want to do better next time.”
- If you’re not ready to apologize in person, you could write a letter and give it to them.
What if it was an accident?
- Someone’s feelings can be hurt even if what you did was an accident. An apology can help you both feel better.
- Explain you didn’t mean to make them upset. Trying saying, “I’m sorry you are hurting.”
- Recognize and take responsibility for your mistake, even if it was an accident.
- Tell them that you hope they feel better.
What if I wanted to hurt them?
- Maybe you don’t want to apologize because you did mean to cause harm.
- Think about what’s important to you. What do your parents and teachers value? What makes you feel good?
- Consider how you would feel if someone hurt you or damaged something of yours. Remember that apologies can help people feel better, even if you don’t feel good about it.
- Try saying, “I can see my actions hurt you.”
- Explain, “I don’t want to hurt you.”
What do I say when someone apologizes to me?
- When someone apologizes to you, you get to decide whether or not to accept the apology.
- To accept, you could simply say, “Thank you. It’s OK.”
- If you don’t accept their apology, try to still be kind.
- Thank the other person for their apology or say, “I understand you didn’t mean to hurt me.”