The art of the genuine apology

For an apology to be genuine, children need to understand why they're saying sorry, parenting columnist Ian Munro writes.


Do you often catch yourself thinking, "Why is this person forever saying ‘sorry' but never doing anything about changing their behaviour?''

It's as if "sorry'' is an excuse, an explanation and a self-permission all rolled into one.If you reply with anything other than, "That's OK'', you're treated as if you are out of order: "I said ‘sorry', didn't I!''

Mostly, we use "sorry'' in a social context as an acknowledgement that we've unintentionally inconvenienced someone, bumped into them, got in their way and so on.

Distinguishing between this form of "sorry'' and the "sorry'' which is an apology can be difficult for children.

An apology calls for a response that involves contriteness, a change of attitude or behaviour and maybe some action or commitment not to do the same thing again.

More often than not, use of the single word "sorry'' where an apology is required is little more than a fob-off and often an arrogant one at that. Some children find flicking a complaint off with a quick "sorry'' is a good way of steamrollering over other children to get or take what they want. It involves a total lack of consideration for the feelings or needs of others.

For an apology to be genuine, children need to understand why they're apologising and be able to express it themselves. Parroting the words you've given them isn't sufficient. "Say you're sorry for upsetting me'' followed by "I'm sorry for upsetting you'' probably involves no genuine feeling of sorrow.

An apology doesn't involve anyone else's action, but requires taking responsibility for your own.

Children should be able to describe the action for which they're apologising. "I'm sorry for knocking over your cup'', "I'm sorry for leaving the door open'' or "I'm sorry for hurting Kelly''.

As they get older they should be able to add a compensatory statement: "I'm sorry for knocking over your cup. I'll go and get a towel.''

"I'm sorry for leaving the door open. I'll go and close it now'' or "I'll try to remember next time''.

"I'm sorry for hurting Kelly. I keep forgetting she isn't as strong as me. I won't do it again.''

And, as always, the best way of teaching this is to model it. Let them hear their parents apologising to each other and to others. Take any opportunities that arise to apologise to your children in this way.

Don't be backward in apologising to your teenager either. Most can understand and identify with a reason such as tiredness or stress as the reason you shouted at them unnecessarily. When you do this, take it that step further by offering something like, "Now I'm a bit calmer can we talk about it again?''


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