Editor’s Note: Is “I’m Sorry” Teaching Our Kids Enough?

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By Lisa Miller

The most significant word in my life is “sorry.” Not because I feel regret or remorse; simply because I hear it so often. It is even more prevalent in daily communication than “love” or “want.” Why are there are so many ways to say “I’m sorry?” Although easy to speak about objectively, expressing the sentiment behind “sorry” is complicated and convoluted. In this case, practice has not made for perfect understanding.

I hear my children, tired and bickering over a toy. I say, “Please apologize and say you’re sorry, and then play nicely together.” “SORRY!” “SARS!” “(I’m not) sorry.” And, finally, after much cajoling, a whimpered, “Sowry.” The botched apology fiasco has been navigated; however, I find myself wondering – has the goal been achieved?

But, what was the goal? To get them to stop fighting? Achieved! Thanks to redirection, they are now united in their frustration with me. To get them to say the word “sorry?” Got it! Although, they didn’t say it because they regretted arguing with each other; they said it because I demanded it of them. Did it make either of them feel better for having received or given an apology? No.

As we grow, we practice our apologies daily. For some, it has become a mantra. A plethora of fancy phrases, tone, emotion and measure are applied to its expression. Yet, do we understand this word any better? I don’t. Perhaps that is why my children seem so confused. We cannot teach what we do not know.

Sorry” wants to be so many things- a peace offering, an expression of remorse, a get out of jail free card. Regardless of all these admirable aspirations, the use of the term seems to meet with about as much success as a New Year’s resolution. People say “sorry” not because they feel remorse, but because society dictates it. Despite being conditioned to crave hearing the word and thinking it will make us feel better, “Sorry” doesn’t solve the problem.

As adults, we have internalized the “sorry” agenda. We’ve grown wordier in our expression, but no more sincere. “I’m sorry you feel that way.” “WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME?! DO YOU WANT TO HEAR ME SAY I’M SORRY?! I’M SORRY!” “Yeah, sorry about that.” “Let me apologize in advance . . .” “Oh. My. God. I. Am. So. Sorry!” Surprisingly, despite all these apologies, I don’t feel any better, do you?

Although it is such a small and common word, the complexity of “sorry” has stumped me through the years. Rather than enforcing a value we cannot teach, it may be time to try something that works instead – communication, empathy, problem solving. Let’s encourage our children to express why they’re upset, understand the feelings of others and work together to resolve the situation and make it better. They will develop interpersonal skills, freedom from unnecessary guilt over spilled milk, confidence and happiness.

Actually, let’s not stop with our children. Let’s lead by example, break our “sorry” habits and capture some of that freedom, confidence and happiness for ourselves. After all, aren’t these all qualities worth fighting for? Now, I’m feeling better. How about you?


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