Being Sorry, Not Saying Sorry

“Say you are sorry!” A mother demands.

Her child shouts the words “I’m sorry!” while he still pulls the toy out of their friend’s hands.

Words have value and purpose. We have this wonderful, colorful vocabulary to discuss how we feel and see the world. We use our words to convey thoughts, ideas, passions, to grow and help others to grow. One of the most wonderful things we teach our children is to speak. More importantly than teaching them letters, words, and sentences is teaching them the meaning behind the syllables.

So how do we teach young children empathy? And what can we do that will be more effective than forcing them to repeat “I’m sorry.” in a mocking bird fashion?


Go ask your children what the word “sorry” means. Chances are they either don’t know, or they believe it’s what you say after you hurt someone. What they don’t yet understand is that ‘sorry’ means you hope that they are ok, and will try your hardest not to do it again. That is what it means to be sorry.

Let’s say that your Susie pushes Johnny down tell her “Ask Johnny if he’s ok.” encourage her look at his face.

“Is he crying?”

“Is he hurt?”

“Is he ok?”

Ask her these things, and process it together. Make sure she knows that SHE caused him to feel this way. Her actions have consequences.

After we establish how Johnny feels we can do something to make it better.

“Should we get him a tissue?”

“Should we give him a hug or high five?”

“Should we help him up?”

Instead of saying words she doesn’t understand the meaning of, helping Johnny gives her a chance to actually feel remorse. Actions are one of the best way to teach children, so having them do something to make their friend feel better leaves a stronger lesson.

So next time you find your children in a scuffle, or making perfectly age appropriate but less than kind choices, don’t ask them to say words they don’t understand.

Encourage your children to feel what the other child is feeling, and to act in a way that says they will try not to do it again.