Apologies, Forgiveness, and Sibling Conflict

Say you're sorry. "I'M SORRY! GAAHHH!!" they ROAR from the other room. 
Lessons were learned, right? 

Often when parenting strong-willed kids, the messages we're trying to send, the skills we're trying to model and the lessons we're trying to teach get lost at sea in a battle of control and BIG emotions.

I hope to help you befriend the gift of time as I break down why I don't insist my kids apologize and what we do instead.


  • Why especially strong-willed kids struggle so much with the vulnerability of apologizing
  • What choices you have in how you react that doesn't let them "get away with it"
  • The way my kids ask each other for forgiveness and forgive the other.


  • What to say when they shut down the choices you offer

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Ever feel like you suck at this job? Motherhood I mean? Have too much anxiety and not enough patience. Too much yelling, not enough play. There's no manual, no village, no guarantees. The stakes are high. We want so badly to get it right. But this is survival mode. We're just trying to make it to bedtime. So if you're full of mom guilt, your temper scares you. You feel like you're screwing everything up, and you're afraid to admit any of those things out loud. This podcast is for you. This is Failing Motherhood. I'm Danielle Bettmann. And each week we'll chat with a mom ready to be real. Sharing her insecurities, her fears, your failures and her wins. We do not have it all figured out. That's not the goal. The goal is to remind you, you are the mom your kids need. They need what you have. You are good enough and you're not alone. I hope you pop in earbuds somehow sneak away and get ready to hear some hope from the trenches. You belong here, friend. We're so glad you're here.

Hey, it's Danielle. Positive Discipline certified parenting coach for strong-willed kids aged two to 10. I am here to help defeated parents find validation support and proven techniques to parent their strong-willed kids with composure, connection, confidence and cooperation through a three month group coaching program based on the wholehearted framework I've developed over years of working with families one on one. And if you've just found the podcast go to failingmotherhood.com to view a playlist of our most listened to episodes as well as where to start if you have a strong-willed child.

Now, I said this two weeks ago, I don't often share very strategic how tos here on the podcast for a reason. Every child is different. Every family's dynamics are unique. And parenting is nuanced, especially with strong-willed kids. But the past few weeks, we've been getting as strategic as we can be on this platform breaking down timers, special time. And now today: Apologies.

Here's the shocker. I don't insist that my kids apologize. Especially my strong-willed one.

For one. It's just words. And I know I talk to a lot of parents who say they'll repeat it but their tone and the way it goes down just doesn't feel good. It doesn't feel right. I'm not satisfied with that answer. Even though they did say it. We're looking for actions that embody the actual heart behind those words of saying I'm sorry, I apologize. Especially for kids with a very strong-willed temperament. Anything that feels extra vulnerable, surprising, catches them off guard makes them feel like they're being put on the spot or in the spotlight, those things set alarm bells off in their head. And they're so loud, they can't hear anything else. Their defense mode takes over, they feel attacked, and it sends them into this like fight or flight response.

You may have heard Dr. Becky explain it with deeply feeling kids, as their vulnerability sits right next to their shame. It is an instantaneous reaction that you really need to learn how to work with and understand rather than try to override when you insist that your strong-willed child apologizes right after they have harmed someone or something.

We think that's what needs to happen. Because we want to bring attention to teaching a lesson. And there are two problems with this.

Number one, it's built on the premise that a lesson needs to be taught that they don't know or understand that it's wrong to hurt a sibling, or a parent or, you know, break a big Lego tower. They know they know better than anyone else. And that's why they are beating themselves up already in their head internally. Because they know they've known for years. But if they could have actually done it in that moment, that's a different situation, the impulse control the big emotional reaction. their thought process was completely hijacked in that moment.

Number two, that thought that we need to teach a lesson right now immediately is also built on the premise that they are teachable all in that moment, and spoiler alert, they are not. You are likely not a good teacher, if you are feeling dysregulated at all, and they are not teachable, their brain is basically making you sound like the Peanuts teacher in that moment or Murmur, murmur, murmur, they are just not thinking in not getting through to them, they are in a agitated irritated state, it's very hard to get through to them in that headspace.

So will a lack of really strict reaction in that moment lead them to believe the way that they just acted is perfectly fine? That it's okay to hit a sibling or parent that it's okay to knock down a big Lego tower of their siblings? No, hear me say, No. Your lack of immediate insistence on what that next step needs to look like allows the focus of their attention to remain on themselves and their behavior, rather than immediately being distracted and pulled into the circus of your reaction. And then really doubling down on how much they need to tell you they don't like what you're doing or how defensive they need to be based on all of the things you're saying that you don't agree with. Or it just creates a escalation. Because when on their side of things, it allows the focus of attention to go on to you and take it off of them, which they want, that makes them feel more comfortable to kind of join into this circus of back and forth.

So it's actually better, the less that you react and allow that focus to move from their behavior to your behavior. So in the moment, when especially when there's big reactions and emotions, your goal is just to work on remaining calm, by any means necessary, sometimes stepping away, and that's okay, then helping get calm both parties.

If you are giving your strong-willed child some space, you can check in and offer comfort to a hurt child or sibling. During that time, that you're just allowing a cooldown process, then when you can tell that they're going to be a little bit easier to get through to and you can create more of a conversation, you can simply narrate and call their attention to the problem or problems that continue to need solving. Like by saying, "there are still Legos all over this floor. How can you help me clean them up?" Or you can say "your brother is feeling really sad and hurt. I need you to check on him. Would you rather bring him an ice pack? Or his stuffy?" (His lovey, his favorite stuffed animal?)

Other choices you could offer in that moment to embody the action behind the heart of those words of saying I'm sorry, would be..."Would you rather offer him a hug or a soft touch? Would you rather tell him a joke to make him smile? Or bring him one of your choice? Would you rather kiss his owie? or draw him a picture right now?"

If they say "no, never, none of those things." And they continue to be volatile and unpredictable in that moment. They are telling you with their behavior, they are not ready for this conversation. And that's okay. You acknowledge that by saying "okay, I hear that you are not ready to check on him yet. Do you need one more minute or three minutes? If there's still no answer, then you can simply say, I'll come back and check on you in two minutes to see if you're ready to make a choice then. And then walk away.

Because it's happening. You do not need to insist it happens immediately. When you do, the heart behind that is often lost and the message you're trying to send is construed by the perceptions on each side the emotions of the moment. And defensiveness and misunderstandings soar. When you work really hard just to control the timing of it, it instigates much more of a power struggle. And again, that heart that you're trying to help them embody is lost at sea of a battle of control.

And in the same thread, you do not want a still volatile, unpredictable, triggered child interacting with a vulnerable hurt one either. You want to protect the security and felt safety of that more vulnerable child, and know that they're going to be able to have a successful interaction, not expose them to continued harm. So if you need time, for that to be possible, that's okay.

Now, just as important, as an apology is, is being able to intentionally coach the hurt sibling, on standing up for themselves and reiterating their needs. You want them to be able to ultimately, in years of practice, be able to say how that made them feel. And for them to be able to ask for what they need. And oftentimes, we either expect them to know how to do that, or we don't have the capacity or clarity in that moment didn't even know what it looks like, because it's not been modeled for us, we're not doing it well around conflict with other adults, which is understandable.

But you want to be able to kind of feed them lines like a script, because they will never know how to handle those moments, unless we teach them. And I think that goes up against some circles of thought that say, leave the siblings to fend for themselves, they will figure it out, don't intervene and insert yourself it's unnecessary. They, you know, just let them figure it out.

But I'm much more in the camp of if you model things often and early, you'll be able to step away younger and sooner. And they'll actually have the skills to be able to manage that conflict without you. Because it's been practiced. And because it's been taught that we cannot expect four and five year olds to handle conflict better than men at a bar in their 20's do unless we actually intentionally teach them what to do what to say how to take turns and verbalize how that made them feel and what they need in that moment, or what they can do to show that heart of repair in that relationship. So it's critical to do that, and model that when they're receptive to it when they're in a headspace of actually being teachable. And everyone, including you, is more regulated.

We feel this pressure that we put on ourselves to react instantly. And if we if the moment is lost if the window of opportunity closes. All right, well, stupid under the rug, better luck next time. You can always ALWAYS, ALWAYS circle back. Even if it's an hour later, few hours later, you have more time the older they are. But you can just say, hey, remember when this happened? Let's have another conversation about that so we know what to do next time. And they'll probably be quite receptive to it because they're not feeling that huge flame of shame at that same time. So you want their executive function to be back online, and circle back outside of heat of the moment. So that you're not just checking the box and making yourself feel better.

And then how I kind of close these conversations with my kids, is I will have the strong-willed child come check on the other. I will usually have the other try to say and stand up for themselves. I didn't like that. I said no. Or please stop. Next time ask me for a turn with that toy. You know, something that's like solving the actual problem of the conflict that started originally. And then we say, "sisters forever". Other clients have taken that to be "brothers forever", or "family forever". The child that did the hurting and the harm asks the other basically, to embody the heart of "do you forgive me?" But in words that makes sense to little kids. They say "family forever" and then the child that is hurt has the opportunity to embody the thought of "I forgive you" by affirming right back to them and repeating "family forever." And so in our house, we just have two girls. And so we say "sisters forever", and they say "sisters forever". And then we're good.

That kind of shows each other, that there's closure there has been repair to the relationship. And both parties feel satisfied with what just happened, enough that they would feel safe asking the other sibling to play again. And then we can all kind of move on.

And then there still may be a problem to solve where if the instigator child's not only pushed and hit, but they also knocked over the Lego tower? That's when I would say, okay, "family forever". And there is still Legos all over the floor. How can you help me clean that up? Would you rather start with the blue ones, or the red ones? or should we set a timer, or I would... I'm going to offer empowering choices of how they can engage and we can work together on continuing to solve the remaining problems that still exist because they are responsible and there is action and accountability for their behavior.

But it's related to the actual problem that they created, rather than it being an unrelated punishment. That just creates more anger, misunderstanding and frustration between us. So when I help them repair, that helps the whole culture of the home and the tension in the room decrease as well, instead of just remaining at that high level of intensity, where everyone continues to walk around eggshells between the vol- ...next to the volatile child, and you know, then likely that energy continues to create irritation and then we're back at square one, again, 10 minutes later.

So I hope that playing that out, in this short, brief way, can help you see at least the freedom you might have, and the flexibility and the way that you can adapt in the moment, and the choices that you have of what that can look like and how you respond that will still create the outcomes that you're looking for, which are healthy sibling relationships, empowered, but not entitled kids, and emotionally intelligent skill sets in your kids. While you can still work together towards those things, not against each other in those moments.

So of course, there's always tweaking, troubleshooting, and individualization for every type of discussion topic that I bring to the table with clients. And when you don't have that you might be left beating yourself up for not being able to do it right, or stuck, because you don't know what to do when this happens. Or if this doesn't work. And you know, when you run into those walls, you deserve more support.

So for more on parenting strong-willed kids, view that playlist of the episodes to start with at failingmotherhood.com. Watch my free training at parentingwholeheartedly.com/unapologetic.

And when you're ready for more of that individualized support that your family needs to get unstuck, and truly transform your home in less than a couple of months, then go ahead and apply for my program, Wholeheartedly CALM.

I believe in you. And I'm cheering you on.

Thank you so much for tuning into this episode of Failing Motherhood. Your kids are so lucky to have you. If you loved this episode, take a screenshot right now and share it in your Instagram stories and tag me. If you're loving the podcast, be sure that you've subscribed and leave a review so we can help more moms know they are not alone if they feel like they're failing motherhood on a daily basis. And if you're ready to transform your relationship with your strong-willed child and invest in the support you need to make it happen. Schedule your free consultation using the link in the show notes. I can't wait to meet you. Thanks for coming on this journey with me. I believe in you, and I'm cheering you on.



Tuesday, Sept 27th at 1:00 PM CENTRAL

Confidently parent your strong-willed child without caving in or dimming their spark so you can finally break free of power struggles, guilt + self-doubt!