How to say sorry so it counts

I grew up in a household where saying “sorry” meant you had really messed up, ie you had failed to righteously and indignantly defend your position. That it to say, it just didn’t happen. At best, it might have sounded something like, “well, I’m sorry you feel that way.” Making an apology is a skill I’ve had to learn as an adult, and now my kid is 3 and starting to navigate the social world and big emotions, I’m trying to help him learn the art of saying sorry, and it’s interesting to see that it doesn’t come easily to him, makes him squirm uncomfortably. When Tanya Richman offered up this post, on how to say sorry like you mean it, I gobbled it up. Good wisdom. Thanks T.


Say you’re sorry…

Saying ‘I’m sorry’ when you’ve erred just doesn’t cut it.

‘Sorry’ leaves people feeling dismissed, unheard and on guard for next time and it’s part of a cycle of aggressive behaviour (aka bullying).  Adults instruct kids to say “I’m sorry”  and then kids get sent back out into the playground, classroom, field, rink and adults expect all to be okay. Adults say, “oh, I’m sorry” and continue on, expecting our partners, children and co-workers to assume that we mean it.


“I’m sorry” is not absolution, it is not an apology and does not send the message to the injured that it won’t happen again. Learning how to make a meaningful apology is a skill. A skill that has to be taught, practiced and modelled. If you’re doing a good job apologizing I guarantee you will feel uncomfortable.


A meaningful apology has three parts:

1.       An expression of remorse coupled with naming the hurt/effect;

2.      An admission of responsibility, (where you own your actions and name them);

and 3. Don’t do it again (or try really hard not to, or acknowledge that you are trying really hard not to repeat). An apology means very little when the action is repeated frequently.

Other aspects of a good apology include not rushing out the door as soon as it’s done, looking someone in the eye or facing them squarely when talking and responding to the needs of the situation (this may require bending down when adults apologize to children). We also need to recognize that an apology may not be accepted or trusted, especially if this isn’t the first time.


Perfection doesn’t exist, we will all need to apologize sometime this week – so start practicing now.


 “I’m sorry for saying that you can’t join the game. When I did that it must have hurt your feelings. Next time we are outside, can you please be on my team?”

“I apologise for pushing you out of the way, I can see that it hurt you, I will do my best to keep my hands to myself.”

“I’m sorry that I was absorbed by my ipad this morning, I can see how you are feeling ignored. I will not turn on my devices until we’ve had our morning check-in” or “what’s a good way for us to communicate with each other that we’d like to talk?”

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