On Saying You’re Sorry

Let’s just be up front about this. My policy is that I make kids say they’re sorry. But for some reason I find myself defending that policy all the time. People don’t want to do this because it will upset their child, or they don’t want to force them to do something they don’t want to do, or they think it doesn’t matter because the kids don’t understand anyway.

Trust me. They understand.

(That’s another fact I’ve been defending for a long time and let me tell you, working with kids and trying to explain them to adults, sometimes I feel like Don Quixote.)

But anyway. I remember it came up on the school playground one day. One of my boys came over to me feeling and looking very sad because of something his brother did (as usual, can’t remember what the fight was about, just that everyone was mad).

I called my other son over and told him that what he did to his brother was wrong. He said, “Sorry,” to me and I said, “Don’t say sorry to me, say you’re sorry to him.”

That’s my standard line. I love it. I use it on everyone in my house, even my husband.

It was around the time when I first met Natalie and she wanted to know if I really thought it would work. I said it doesn’t work with all kids all the time, but my boys know what it means and yeah, I do think it works.

Sure enough we watched the two of them talking and then off they went, running and laughing together like the crazy hyenas they are.

One of my friends had a fight with her husband and when he tried to explain himself she told him, “Just say you’re sorry. We make the kids say it all the time. It’s your way of showing the people you love that you really care about them.”

Saying sorry means humbling yourself. Naturally we proud humans don’t like to do that. Kids don’t want to do it because saying you’re sorry means admitting you were wrong. Who wants to do that?! But our job as parents is to teach our children that yes, in fact, believe it or not, sometimes they ARE wrong! And they have to do something to fix it.

And our other job is to admit that yes, in fact, sometimes WE are wrong! And we teach our children how to apologize when we apologize to them. Seriously. The word “sorry” comes out of my mouth about a hundred times a day. It shows kids that while I am the boss, I’m fair and I know when I screw up. But I’m going to make it right and work harder next time not to let it happen again.

Or, simply, “Yikes I didn’t mean to drop that and I’m so sorry it hit you! Are you OK? It was an accident!” Sometimes that’s all it takes to calm someone, but even in that simple situation kids don’t know how to say they’re sorry. They just kind of sit there staring at the hurt child. So I tell them, “She’s hurt and scared – can you tell her you’re sorry and give her a hug? We know you didn’t mean it.”

Now if, of course, if a child is not willing to say they’re sorry, I’m not going to literally force them to do it (unless it’s my own kid, that’s my perogative. KIDDING!!!). But I do have a standard little lecture that I give them (and take great pleasure in doing – hey I’ve gotta get my kicks somehow). Here’s the lecture:

“OK, I see you don’t want to say you’re sorry right now but what you did was wrong. You really hurt your friend’s feelings, and she’s not going to want to play with you because of that.”

God, even writing it makes me feel a little better. There are some things I’m not very good at in this business. Getting kids to clean up is the first that comes to mind. But this interpersonal stuff, this I’m good at for some reason. I think it’s because making my kids feel safe and protected is the most important thing to me.

So yeah, sometimes I make kids do something they don’t really want to do. But when they do, they’ve made a big step toward maturity. And they’re better people for it. Trust me.

4 thoughts on “On Saying You’re Sorry

  1. I always feel happier after reading something you wrote…your amazing…Thank you. Also, “I am sorry”….hehe…if I didn’t say it in the past when I should of….it’s hard to be vunerable…yet it’s the best. Tonight with Jon, “I am sorry” really lightened the almost argument mood. Saying you messed up is so much easier in the long run…yet why do I forget that “in the moment???”…Natalie

  2. Some very good points! If more people would realize “You know, I did something wrong, I should just apologize and we can move on” the world as a whole would be better than what we have now which is people blatantly being wrong, then denying it as much as possible – to the point of further hurting the one they wronged, and maybe even others that weren’t even originally involved.

    Being humble enough to know you are wrong about something AND being able to seek forgiveness for it takes a strong person. Anyone can apologize, and to the point where it actually loses it’s value – for instance, if someone apologizes a thousand times a day for things that weren’t even their fault, it takes away some of the validity for when they apologize when they actually did do something – but to actually seek forgiveness for who they faulted takes a strength that’s hard to muster sometimes.

    Great post! 😀

    • Hi again Christian – Very good point – I realized after the fact (and someone googled it to get here) that I should have mentioned constant apologizing losing its effectiveness. So true. Thanks for your kind words!

  3. Pingback: When Saying You’re Sorry Isn’t Enough « Sitting On The Baby

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