Monday, November 12, 2012

Who’s Sorry Now?

Apologizing has become an art form these days, with politicians, celebrities and CEOs saying “I’m sorry” in the public arena for misdeeds. Many times, the sincerity of such apologies are questions, with good cause in some cases. I sometimes shudder to think how all those public mea culpas look to children.

We want our children to apologize when they do something wrong. Usually, they can see—even if they don’t acknowledge—that their actions were not right and therefore an “I’m sorry” is needed.

But what about when the action was an accident, totally unintentional? Then it’s harder for the child to make the connection as to the apology’s necessary, but it doesn’t negate the fact that the apology should still be made.

One way we raise our children to be good citizens is to ensure they take responsibility for both their intentional and accidental actions. Whether they mean to hurt someone—with words or deeds—is not the point, and so many times we as parents get bogged down with the intent of the action. Instead, we should focus on the action’s outcome—hurt feelings or hurt bodies. If our child caused such hurt, whether it’s legitimate or not, whether it was on purpose or not, then the child should apologize.

In our family, we’ve tried to teach our children how to apologize. For instance, “I’m sorry,” isn’t enough. The child must say what he’s apologizing for. The child to whom the apology is given also needs to acknowledge the apology and tender forgiveness—at least verbally—by saying “I forgive you.”

Some wrongs might need more than a verbal apology. I’ve had my girls write letters of apology when they’ve hurt the feelings of a friend. The very act of putting down on paper why they are sorry can help them feel more remorse and also shows the other child their sincerity in the apology.

Children often don’t think to say they’re sorry because they’re still learning not to be self-centered. Helping them follow the Golden Rule—Do unto others as you would have them do unto you—is key to them realizing their need to apologize.

It’s difficult to apologize, because we don’t like to be in the wrong. We should remember that our children are watching us as we do—or don’t, as the case may be—apologize for our own wrongdoings. The more sincere and quick we are to say we’re sorry, the better example we’ll be for our children to follow.

How do you handle it when your child needs to say he’s sorry?

Sarah Hamaker is a certified Leadership Parenting Coach through the John Rosemond Leadership Parenting Coaching Institute. She’s also a freelance writer and editor, and author of Hired@Home, a guide to unlocking women’s work-from-home potential now available on Kindle. Her stories have appeared in Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Sarah lives in Virginia with her husband and four children. Visit her online at

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