“OUCH! That really hurt.” I heard my husband cry out. “Say sorry. We tell each other sorry when we hurt others.”
It’s something that we said over and over as our oldest has gotten older. There was nothing inherently wrong with teaching our kids to apologize when they hurt someone or when they were wrong… because after all, we would love for our children to fess up to their mistakes or moments of poor judgment.
However, a cycle of behavior started that was not only annoying but also not helpful.
Because then each scenario would go down like this… “Jenn, did you color on the furniture?” a very high-pitched staccato “SAH-RY” would ring out about 5 times and she would go on her way. “No, you don’t just get to say sorry and suddenly be off the hook. That’s not how it works.” I would remind her.
But sorry became a band-aid word for any and all situations.
And it lost its meaning.
It was ineffective and lacked that level of politeness and grace we desire all people to have when they’re in the wrong… and know it.
The secret phrase for teaching a child to apologize with grace
So we shifted.
We made a pivot in our family to not only not force “I’m sorry” but to not even require the word sorry. There are so many sincere ways to apologize and ask for forgiveness without even using the word; therefore, we started using a different phrase to encourage empathy in our kids.
“Apologize and make it right” is the new normal.
Whether it’s reinforcing sibling boundaries, playing with friends, or disputes between parent and child, it’s important for us to now encourage our kids to follow through with action as a way of asking for forgiveness.
“But I said I’m sorry” I often hear Jenn say after an altercation with her sister. To which we simply respond “… but did you work to make it right?”
It’s a simple phrase.
And though it’s so simple, it’s highly effective.
But what’s even more important is how we model it as parents.
Shifting away from the sorry-and-dash tactics also means that as parents we do a better job of modeling apologizing. And in doing so we strive to purposefully find ways to do so without saying the word sorry.
How to apologize to each other and sincerely mean it
Need ideas on how to teach your kids to say sorry or to model it for them? This free printable has 14 effective phrases to use when asking for forgiveness. There’s a preview below and simply subscribe with your email and you’ll get an instant download.
More parenting resources and teachable moments
Read my friend Paula’s post on how a parent can teach consent to young kids.
Kara is an author, wife, and mother of 3 children living in Boston, MA. She has her degree in Secondary Education & Adolescent Childhood Development and is passionate about connecting with and even helping other parents on their journey to raise awesome kids!