Why I Told My Children to Stop Saying “Sorry”

You are too loud. Sorry. You spilled your grape juice on the carpet in the room you were not supposed to have drinks in. Sorry. You hurt your brother when you hit him. Sorry. You took that without permission. Sorry. You broke the window. Sorry. You lied to me. Sorry.

Sorry on Australia Day-sky writingphoto © 2010 butupa | more info (via: Wylio)

The list could go on and on. You probably have similar stories. Your child does something wrong, makes a mistake, either by accident or intention, and then simply says “sorry” to atone for the problem.

That’s the right thing to do, isn’t it?  Yes; but, no.

Maybe they knew the rules; but, it just wasn’t at the top of their priorities to follow the rules. Or, maybe they just haven’t learned to think beyond their current desire.  Often times, it is something that they were not trying to do; but, were not trying to avoid either.

And then you get the proverbial response, “sorry”. No emotion. No Pause. No conviction. Often times not even as much as an “I am sorry”.  I wasn’t satisfied with the response.

So, I told my kids to stop saying “sorry”.

Yes, I want my kids to apologize. But, there has to be more to it. Spouting out the word “sorry” as fast as one can does not offer any real indication of an apology. It is really just used as an attempt to appease a parent with hopes of avoiding negative consequences.

When I gave the new rule, I did explain to my kids what an apology really should be and what I expect to hear:

  • an acknowledgment of the mistake or wrong-doing
  • an indication of remorse and plan for righting any wrongs
  • a showing of a desire to make a change so that this issue will not happen again

I have now given my expectations to my kids (again), they know what to do. We will now watch to see what happens.

There is another side to this. In an upcoming post, I will explore how we, as parents and leaders, need to adopt this same rule.

Question:  What do you do to help an apology be sincere and effective?  You can share a comment below.

18 Comments to “Why I Told My Children to Stop Saying “Sorry””

  • Brandon March 31, 2011 at 8:11 am

    Yeah. A lot of times kids say sorry, but don’t really know what they are saying…Great post!

  • Brandon March 31, 2011 at 8:12 am

    By the way, I love the site logo you made me a few weeks ago! I just switched to WordPress yesterday so I am still getting used to things. It will be the new header when I can figure out how to crop it…

    Thanks again!

    • Steven Cribbs March 31, 2011 at 8:35 am

      Cool. I can crop it for you – or change the size. I would just need the desired dimensions. You can also use just about any graphics program to crop images – like Paint on a PC.

      • Brandon March 31, 2011 at 11:30 am

        Awesome! It is supposed to be 960×80 pixels. How do you crop it to that? I have paint…I’m not very high tech with graphics! haha

        • Steven Cribbs March 31, 2011 at 1:56 pm

          In Paint, you can crop or resize. If resizing, you can specify your dimensions or percentage of change. In cropping, as you draw your selection rectangle, the status at the bottom of the page will show you the dimensions.

          So, your limiting factor is your 80 pixels in height – you will not have to be particular with the width of this particular image.

          Is the image going in the white area at the top of the page? If so, I will send you a new image that is designed for a white background – the previous one was designed to blend in with a black background.

  • Adam March 31, 2011 at 8:23 am

    Try to talk through what caused the problem and how it could have been approached differently.

    I agree “Sorry” kind of becomes a generic word with little meaning…

    • Steven Cribbs March 31, 2011 at 8:37 am

      I do that a lot, too. I will often times explain what the kids need to know and then have them tell it back to me in their own words.

  • TNeal March 31, 2011 at 10:57 am

    To sharpen an apology, I focus on what I know I did wrong. Not a generalized “I’m sorry if I hurt you” but a specific “I said I found it hard to believe you. You’re right. That does mean I think you’re lying. I’m wrong. I apologize.” This is taken from an actual recent conversation and I was wrong for what I said.

    An apology without specifics doesn’t mean much to me. A general “I’m sorry” also shows signs of little thought or regret for words and actions.

    • Brandon March 31, 2011 at 11:33 am


    • Steven Cribbs March 31, 2011 at 11:33 am

      I totally agree with you – an apology without specifics doesn’t mean a whole lot.

      Thanks for sharing your recent conversation! I have had some moments recently where I needed to apologize – which has prompted the second post I am working on looking at how we, as parents and leaders, can often do a better job with apologizing.

      • Brandon March 31, 2011 at 12:44 pm

        That sounds like a great topic (post) to go along with this one! By the way, how long does it generally take you to write a post?

        • Steven Cribbs March 31, 2011 at 1:53 pm

          My time varies quite a bit. I typically end up hitting spurts where I just write – capture ideas, create rough drafts, explore some different topics. I generally come away with some writings that are pretty close to being ready to publish. Then, at another time (after having let the idea sit for a little while), I will come back to touch it up a bit and publish it.

          Of course, there are times when an idea is inspired and the post comes together all at once pretty quickly.

          I may not be the norm for writing; and, I am still kind of new at the process. So, how about anyone else…what does your process look like?

  • JD Eddins April 1, 2011 at 1:09 pm

    I’m there with you. I love when my middle child shrugs, says “Sorry” and then dances off as if this was the end of the story. We’ve started asking our girls to not simply say “sorry” but to add an explanation of what they are sorry for. But even this extra step leaves room for the heart to be unchanged.

    • Steven Cribbs April 1, 2011 at 8:44 pm

      It is a challenge, isn’t it? I am hoping that being consistent and continuing to teach these foundational things will eventually pay off.

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    […] ago I had one of those times with something I had written. I turned the writing into a blog post (this post) and I made it a point to tell a few people about it – including some that I don’t […]

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