Teaching The Art Of Apologizing

I spent a lot of time yesterday thinking about this entry and if wondering I explained my “issue” well. Spoiler Alert: I don’t think I did.

I think THIS is my problem with the whole Someone Offends Someone >>> Someone May Or May Not Issue Apology chain of events: You can’t simply say “I’m sorry” if you really are sorry.

I have been working on something with my kids lately. HOW TO APOLOGIZE. If they’re in trouble and just crying, “I’m so sorry! I’m so sorry!” over and over I stop them and say, “That is NOT how you apologize. I need a REAL apology.”

There are TWO somewhat easy things I’m trying to teach them:

  1. Saying it over and over does not make you MORE sorry. Say it ONCE and MEAN it.
  2. You can’t just say “I’m sorry.” You have to say what you’re sorry for. “I’m sorry I used a bad word.” “I’m sorry I wrote on that desk.” “I’m sorry I yelled at you.” etc. That way the person you’re apologizing to knows that YOU know what you did wrong.

So…when I tell them they’re not giving me a REAL apology, I usually have them focus on those two areas.

But – I’m also trying to teach them the other part of an apology, and THIS is the thing that I think bugs me with the above mentioned chain of events. If you really want to convey sorrow over something to someone, you have to figure out a way to tell them how you’ve learned your lesson. Or how you’ve changed. Or SOMETHING. That’s the hard part. I’m not sure how to explain that to the kids just like I’m not sure how to write it in that entry yesterday.

It’s just – to me – someone who is REALLY sorry tries to learn from their mistake and change their behavior. Like in yesterday’s examples: Educate yourself on the culture/group you offended. Don’t just say, “I’m sorry I wore black face as my Halloween costume.” Say, “I’m sorry I wore black face as my Halloween costume and I’m going to spend time learning about this action as a part of African American history so I can better understand why that was so offensive so I can avoid being that offensive in that way again. Also? Here’s a donation to [insert charity here] to show my sincerity.”

Does THAT make sense? I feel like the whole “I’m sorry for my actions” is not enough, whether it’s a celebrity screw-up or a kid breaking a rule. A real apology also provides some sort of sign that you’re going to try to learn from the error so as not to make the mistake again. And that is the part I feel like we’re missing in the whole Celebrity Offends A Group Of People chain of events.

But I want my kids to understand that important part, too. And I’m struggling on explaining it to adults who read these words, I definitely fail at explaining it to them. But I think it’s so VERY important and helps teach that valuable lesson about how to really show someone you’re sorry if you’ve messed up. And so many people nowadays say things like, “I’m sorry you were offended…” or “I’m sorry my actions upset you…” or the WORST: “I’m sorry, but…” and none of those are foundations for a good apology.

And I’m not perfect by any means, which may be why I struggle so much with teaching/explaining the concept. My error tends to be in playing the martyr card with the “I’m sorry, but…” technique. I tend to say, “I’m sorry, but [insert action here that makes the person I’m apologizing too feel a little bad too].” Which, quite possibly, could be the WORST way to apologize.

Do you have any tricks for teaching your kids how to apologize?

Edited to add: My friend and I continued the discussion in the comments where I admit/agree that there are times where you can be REALLY sorry someone is offended, because you don’t like to seem them upset, but you really CAN’T change your view/behavior. I think a good example (which I used in the comment) would be if someone I really loved (like family, the unconditional kind of love) got their feelings hurt that I wasn’t a Christian. And there might be some of them who do get upset with me for that reason! I have a lot of very faithful Christians in my family. Anyway – I would truly feel sorry that they were hurt by my non-belief. BUT…I couldn’t/wouldn’t change my actions/beliefs to adapt. So…in that case…my apology if they confronted me would have to be: I’m sorry my position upsets you. Which falls under the “crappy” apology described above. HOWEVER – I can be respectful and not post a snarky link on Facebook making fun of Christians. If I did post something making fun of Christians? They would have every right to separate ties with me, no matter what our blood said. Because that would be seriously shitty of me.

6 thoughts on “Teaching The Art Of Apologizing”

  1. Kim, I totally agree with you on the right way to apologize. Specificity goes a long way in making the hurt person feel heard and validated. However… when I think back to some of the things that even got this whole discussion started, I am trying to figure out how this works when it isn’t so much what someone has “done” as much as it is what that person thinks or feels. What else can one say besides “I’m sorry what I said offended you” when the whole basis for the struggle is that I said something you didn’t agree with? There are so many people I don’t agree with that I still want to have a relationship with and don’t feel that we must agree in order to have it. Why is it that one or two issues have to make that impossible? Could it be that it hurts the one who believes differently than you just as much to be told “We can never be friends because you believe this” as it does you to hear that they hold that belief? This is a really hard discussion for me and is usually one of those instances where I might try to respond in my head but wind up not doing it for fear of being alienated, so I hope you will appreciate how difficult it is for me to respond. I have learned so much from you and even though it has not changed my core beliefs, it has changed the understanding and respect I have for others. If we lived in the same end of town and/or had children the same age, I think I would totally be trying to be a part of the groups you hang in (except that running thing…. that is just too cray-cray for me, girl. Just trying to keep it light here) I don’t know where else I am going with this other than to say that I don’t want one issue to make or break what little relationship/community we have found online. There are too many other ways I think we connect to lose that.

    Hitting post and hoping I don’t get banned from your blog or unfriended on FB, ’cause I really do like you.

  2. Oh, Girl. I think that’s why I spend so much time thinking about this! Because none of it is every black and white and I try my best to make it b&w so that I can compartmentalize my life and my feelings! EASY BREEZY.

    But there is still always going to be gray area when human feelings are involved, I believe. As difficult as that makes it!

    There are two things in my life that I think make these issues difficult and why I spend WAY too much time thinking about them.

    1) My husband! HA! He does and I revisit this a LOT because I just get my feelings hurt and take things personally quite often and he – quite reasonably – thinks I shouldn’t get my feelings hurt. And while, logically, I understand that – I still DO have hurt feelings and want him to try to recognize that and try to not have the attitude that ALWAYS ends in me with hurt feelings. Example: He’s not one to issue compliments, ever. But, of course, if things need to be done differently he points out those. And I always get my feelings hurt b/c I don’t have a foundation of compliments to cushion the blow of criticism. So, in those instances, he can’t really “apologize” in the way I describe above because – the correction still needs to be made! He really wouldn’t do anything differently. But I got my feelings hurt! Because I want 10 compliments per 1 criticism! HA! So, yeah – in that instance? EXACTLY how you said. He wouldn’t do things differently, so basically he has to say, “I’m sorry your feelings are hurt.”

    2) The “one” issue thing – it is SO HARD. I have so many family members who I obviously LOVE DEARLY but there may be some sort of MAJOR issue we conflict on. In some cases there’s SEVERAL. And I think – in the successful relationships I have with those kind of differences – it’s always about respect. For example – I’m not a Christian (I KNOW?! SHOCKING!) but I love my family who ARE Christians so I would never post a snarky Facebook link making fun of Christians. (I think of Ricky Gervais who posts stuff like that on Twitter all the time.) One the same note, they don’t ever talk to me about saving my soul. They may pray for me when I’m not looking (grin) but they respect me enough not to confront me about that difference.

    BUT – If I posted a snarky anti-Christian link and they got offended? I think they would be justified in separating ties with me. Does that make sense? Because in that moment I pooped on our relationship. I took this one thing that I know is VERY important to this person I love and I intentionally pooped on it. So, even though I wouldn’t apologize for my beliefs or my difference in not being a Christian, apologizing for “offending them” would not be enough and they should cut ties with me on any level that wasn’t mandatory.

    MY POINT? Yeah. Sometimes? You can’t really “change” your behavior. Donnie can’t change needing to point out when a correction needs to be made in something I’m doing (because – obviously there’s a better way to do something – hence the correction) – so he can’t apologize in the “right” way I mention above. In those moments? He can only be sorry that my feelings are hurt.

    And I can’t change NOT being a Christian so if something about that offends someone I love, I just have to be sorry they’re offended. HOWEVER – I can respect that enough to not do anything TOO offensive to those beliefs. But, if they choose to be offended JUST because I’m not a Christian? Then you’re right – that’s really on them and there’s nothing I can do.

    So – YOU ARE RIGHT! There are those times where you can’t change your behavior but you really are sad/sorry the person is offended. And sometimes those moments can break a relationship. And those times are sad.


    I recently unfriended someone (not really a close acquaintance anyway) for posting something that said Liberals were like Nazis. It was an easy decision because I knew we were not close enough for us to discuss it or for me to explain why that was offensive in hopes for her not to do that again. No big deal. However, I had a similar interaction with someone I love in person where they said something I found SO offensive but I just let it slide. I didn’t even tell the person why it was offensive because – in my heart – I knew it wouldn’t matter and the only way to preserve our relationship would be to not even address it.

    I’m not sure if that was the right call. Because I’m still holding on to it. 🙂

  3. ONE MORE THING! (HA!) I added an addendum to the entry relating to this conversation. Thank you for starting it!!!!! I always love your conversations on these matters, and always love the things you post on Facebook, even if they don’t apply to me, so I would never unfriend you 🙂

  4. Can I just say I am so happy right now? Thank you. You have made my morning. Now I am going back to bed. It was a long night; went to bed way too late (after 1am) and woke up way too early (5am). Will be babysitting my grandbaby all afternoon so really need more sleep!

  5. We make our kids do the same thing, “I’m sorry for X.” It makes a big difference.

    But then I want to see them doing the new behavior. If they said “I’m sorry for shouting at my brother” I need to see them using indoor voices. They can promise me they’ll change anything but they’re littelinkids, so those are pretty meaningless promises. But showing me the behavior usually makes it more real.

    Also, I totally stole your “listening the first time” thing and I love it and its spreading around our group of friends.

  6. Sadly, I only learned this as an adult – that you are right, just saying you are sorry is not enough. It’s more like a cop-out. However, being a sober adult now, I have learned that yes, we will still make mistakes and have regrets and we can apologize but it also means trying our best to never do those actions again. So, saying you’re sorry is all well and fine but are you going to try to not to take those actions again? Will you change? That is what I ask myself and what I’ve TRIED to teach my kids too.

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