How Can I Get My 3-YO Daughter to Understand the Importance of Apologies (and Changing Behavior)?


"My daughter is almost 3. When she gets in trouble for something, she apologizes SINCERELY and hugs me or my husband. I don’t think she’s old enough to be manipulative.

The trouble is, the apology doesn’t change the behavior. Example: today, NOTHING would get her to clean up her blocks. We put her on a timeout. She kept trying to go apologize but still wouldn’t clean up the blocks (we tried making it fun, my turn your turn, find all the GREEN ones now, lots of strategies), so we ended up putting her back on timeout every time she defiantly said no. And she would tearfully and sincerely apologize again.

How do I appropriately acknowledge the genuineness of the apologies while teaching her the importance of listening to us/cleaning up/whatever the issue?"

RELATED QUESTION: How Should I Have Handled My Child’s Outbursts?


“If I’m being honest, she sounds like any other 2-year-old. It’s great for kids to start doing things on their own. I clean my daughter’s mess up without asking her to help. I make sure to do it when she’s watching. Every single time, she comes to help. I make sure to praise her every time and thank her. I personally don’t believe an almost 3-year-old understands an apology or how to be genuine with it. I wouldn’t punish her for not cleaning. I would pick up and make her watch. Explain to her the importance of cleaning “If we don’t clean, we can trip and get hurt” etc. It’s all about repetition for children.”

“She’s still a baby. These kinds of things take time. Most adults can’t comprehend the importance of sincere apologies.”

“Ok. Well, first 3-year-olds can manipulate. 2nd, just explain. I’m sure she thinks apologizing makes it all better and that’s how you get done with timeout. That’s not actually how apologies work though, is it? Tell her that she can only say she’s sorry if she plans to make better choices going forward. “I’m sorry means I am ready to make good choices now.” You go in timeout for making poor choices. You can say sorry and get out of timeout, but ONLY when you’re ready to make good choices. If you say you’re sorry, and you keep making poor choices, then that’s not being sorry, that’s lying. “We never ever want to lie about being sorry.” Maybe it’s time to start the steps to an honest apology. 1. You say you’re sorry. 2. You say what you’re sorry for. 3. You say how you plan to fix it. 4. You give hugs and kisses and follow through on your apology promise. You’re technically supposed to go through those after each timeout. She’ll get it fast enough.”

“She is physically unable to empathize until she is about 5. It’s good she at least apologizes but she just won’t get it yet.”

“Oh, sweetie. She’s 2! Give her a break, it’s just blocks! The fact she’s apologizing is massive, keep punishing her and she won’t do that. It’s OK for them to show their independence, say no, not always do everything you ask. Doesn’t mean they’re going to grow up to be messy or defiant, just means they’re still 2 or 3, or 4, or 5. Practise will make perfect on these learned habits. Your really expecting a bit too much from her at such a young age. That’s not to say don’t ask her to pick up toys, most of the time she’ll likely comply. But if she has a burst of independence and says no, don’t make it an all-day standoff.”

“Take her blocks away and make a big deal over it. If she wants them back she has to start picking up her messes. 2-3 is that stage where they test boundaries. They know exactly what they can and can’t get away with. In our house, if you don’t do what you’re supposed to do after timeout, then you get straight back in timeout and sit for exactly how long it takes to change your mind. I ignore them while they throw fits and if they get up, they know they’re in trouble. She’s not sorry because she’s ruling the roost. 3 is old enough to learn. Kids are so much smarter than we give them credit for. Don’t make excuses for her behavior. There isn’t an excuse.”

“Never tell her ‘it’s ok’ when she apologizes. Tell her ‘thank you’ instead. Then explain why what she is doing isn’t ok. Like ‘thank you for saying sorry, but it’s not ok for you to tell mommy and daddy no, you have to clean up your toys.’”

“The way we did it with my niece, 2 yo, was with an egg. We broke it and apologized then asked her if it fixed the egg. Then we explained that sorry it’s very nice but doesn’t fix what happened which is why next time we won’t hurt the egg and will be more careful! It’s seemed to work so far but kids also learn based on repetition so you might have to do it a couple of times to get the point across! Hope this helps!”

“I tell my girls that they can apologize and apologize but if there actions stay the same the apology means nothing. I then show or tell them how to change their actions.”

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The apology your daughter is offering is for upsetting you & your husband. What is her objection to cleaning the blocks: does she want to use them later: she doesn’t want to pull apart a creation: she is overwhelmed by the task? Is it a power struggle? (especially now that it’s an issue)


what is apologizing to someone for it going to make her stop for? She’s learning she can do whatever she wants as long as she says sorry after. Not many WANT to clean up. Mines 14 and its STILL a struggle. You keep going. You keep telling her until she does it. Punishing her for not doing it doesn’t seem logical “if you don’t clean up, you have to sit there.” at 3 that seems pretty young. don’t expect her to understand or comprehend beyond her age. and don’t think she is dumb either. 3 year olds can get what they want out of you. but you need to expect them to give you what you want to and you keep going until you get it.

Time. It takes time. Her brain isn’t mature enough yet. Just keep teaching. She will eventually get it. She’s still so young. :heart:


Maybe just keep helping and make a game of it. Favorite snack afterwards…that type of thing.

She’s 3… what are you truly expecting from a 3 years old? Understand the importance of apology? At 3?! Take a step back and allow her to be a child. You punishing her all the time for not doing things your exact way is insane. You win some and you lose some with a 3 year old. Chill out.


Theu dont have emphy for other people until the age of 3 or 4 apologies mean very little to them at this point. If you say how you feel about the behavior like when you dont help mom pick up it makes me feel…how do you feel about … that hurts my feelings. Makes me sad.

Telling her she can apologize by cleaning up and that is the only acceptable apology. Not words but actions. If you want to apologize to mommy and daddy go clean your room. If you don’t apologize by cleaning your room, we will take your toys away for a day. :woman_shrugging:t2::walking_woman:t2:


Tell her your going to vacuum everything up, and start vacuuming at this age, she doesn’t realize the vacuum can’t pick up her blocks.
I use to tell my daughter at that age if she didn’t pick up her toys I was going to vacuum them up. She’ll
start picking them up.

Kids are very manipulative… Mine is really sweet to me when she needs a favor


Start a rewards system. Put in on paper with pictures. But dont do it so she gets a reward every time. Cut something out that she will understand means picking things up and glue it to a piece of paper. Get stickers let her put one beside the pic everytime she does what’s asked. And not after begging her but from her easily doing it. That helps to take the struggle out. Sticker not for going against you but just doing as asked. Pick a number. I’ll just say 2. After she puts 2 stickers beside the pic she can have a sucker or something like that. After say like 20 stickers she can pick out a $5 toy from the store. Rewards system works well. It gives them an easy goal. And visually gives them something to work towards

Teach her about actions. Yes she is only 3 but she can still be taught at this age. Maybe time outs aren’t enough. Maybe take the toy away for the rest of the day. Actions have consequences. She can certainly apologize for not listening but she also needs to learn that when you ask her to clean up when she is not using something anymore that she needs to listen. Explain that someone could slip and fall on them because they are just in the middle of the floor.


time for a good pop on the bottom.


She many be only three but I am sure she can operate a tablet or any other gadget well.
In a child friendly way let her know that when she says sorry she should not repeat the action. She need to know how to be obedient and follow rules or a privilege will be taken away.
You can also explain how herself or any of you can have an accident from toys left around.
Be serious about it .You cannot expect to be instilling and yet having her think it is fun.Both parents must be on the same page. She would know she cannot run to daddy and get away with whatever. If an animal can be trained from small a child can be .

An apology is not acceptable without a change in behavior. Try explaining that an apology means she will do what you tell her to do.


If she doesn’t pick up her blocks and you end up doing it put them in a bag/tote and put them up. Whatever she plays with and doesn’t pick up and you end up doing it you do the same and then she has to “earn” them back. She is 3 so she is old enough to understand small consequences.

Don’t give her the attention when she is cleaning up. Set a timer. Tell her 3 minutes to clean and then you will help ONLY if she has cleaned some part off alone… my daughter is the same way, when I “set” a timer the whole room gets cleaned. It took a week or so for her to understand I will not help unless she does some alone, but it’s worked!!

Well she’s only 3. That type of learning doesn’t come for a while. Just keep it up. She’ll get it.

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I’ve come to realize the best way to learn and teach a child is through love and model appropriate behaviors then things fall into place, effortlessly… and with fun. Time out and punishment did not work and showed hostility, sometimes very subtle but not welcomed behaviors

uh, she’s 3… she is still a baby. Teaching is fine, showing how to do things fine… not getting that it will NOT always work out, especially when THEY ARE 3… ummm. I kind of feel bad for her, how the upbringing from you all is going to be :grimacing::flushed:

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