Saying “Sorry” May Not Always Be Necessary

Often as parents we want to make sure that our kids are properly disciplined. We always want our child to say his or her’s please and thank yous and ofcourse say sorry when they said something not nice or hit/hurt either another child or their sibling. What many parents aren’t always aware of is that sometimes its important to monitor your child’s response to a particular action and know whether or not saying sorry is necessary. I don’t want you to get the wrong message and think that I don’t consider it important for a child to say sorry. It just may not always be necessary. This doesn’t mean that they should never say sorry. And often saying sorry is important when another child has been hurt and that other child will need to hear ‘sorry’ in order to feel better (especially if the other child’s parent is standing right there).

I just remember when I was a kid I was often told to say ‘thank you’ or ‘sorry’ when I was just about to say it. I would then feel like I didn’t want to. I just hated it when my mother or even today my wife would look at me and lean over and say “Say thank you”. I would always respond the same. “I was going to say thank you but now that you told me too I feel like an idiot and now I don’t want to.”

This is not exactly how a child responds or feels when told to say “sorry” or “thank you” but it is a bit close.

When a four year old does something wrong they will often know it. Especially when they didn’t mean to do it. Even though a child wont say sorry it doesn’t mean that they don’t feel bad about what they’ve done. We, as parents, want to teach our children that saying sorry is important but more importantly we want our kids to know when they’ve done something wrong. Focusing on what they say instead of how they feel can cause us to miss the point on parenting. This is why a parent must be in tune with their child’s feelings. We should want our kids to have sincere gratitude, shame, or regret and sometimes this can be displayed without them having to verbalize their feelings.

To help understand what I’m trying to say let me tell you about one of my experiences with my daughter who was 4 years old at the time. She walked into the den and did something wrong to her younger brother. I have to say that I don’t remember exactly what it was that she did but it made him cry. He was two at the time. I walked in the room and demanded that she say sorry. She put her head down in a sort of guilty way and walked over to the corner of the room. As I was ready to make another demand, I noticed that she was very sad and looked as if she felt very sorry for what she did. So I decided to try another approach. I said to her “You know I think you feel sorry for what you did but its probably hard for you to say sorry. You could say sorry when you’re ready” and then I went back to the kitchen. Not more than ten seconds later, my daughter walks in the room and says “You’re right daddy it is hard for me to say sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt him. I feel bad. I’m sorry I hurt him.” And then she went back into the den and apologized to her brother.

I couldn’t believe it. I was in shock. I couldn’t wait to tell my wife about what just happened. I learned a lot from that experience. It really made me understand that sometimes its more important about sincere feelings and regret than about superficial words. Like I said before, I don’t think saying sorry isn’t important I think its very important but I think its more important for us as parents to recognize and acknowledge when our kids truly feel gratitude or regret. Being in tune with our child’s feelings is critical in the early stages of discipline and parenting.

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9 Responses

  1. Rory says:

    This is a wonderful example of how empathy goes so much further than making demands. Understanding children’s feelings is vital to successful parenting.

    Actually, there’s so much about this article that I like.

  2. Eric says:

    Welcome Rory,

    I figured you would like this post. It has the emotional awareness that you espouse so much on yout site.

  3. Derek says:

    I got here from a link on

    I find that I feel similarly to you when I am told to do things, especially when it’s something that I know or want to do anyways. Even in day-to-day interactions sometimes I find myself doing to others that which I dislike. Unfortunately it is all too easy to tell people what to do. And that is even more so with parents towards their children since they are “the boss” of them in many ways.

    I liked this article because it not only interested me, but it also made me think. Thanks!

  4. Eric says:

    Thanks for the comment Derek. As with management, bad managers are good at telling their subordinates what to do (micro managers) whereas good managers let their staff make their own decisions.

  5. David says:

    A related experience that my wife and I recently had, that likewise astounded me, was with the issue of our son getting dressed in the morning. He is a four years old, and is able to get himself dressed, but every morning it would be a struggle, with him protesting that he can’t, and us insisting that he get dressed right away.

    After trying a variety of strategies, from positive encouragement, to stern warnings, to trying to get dressed together with him, and even getting him stretchier socks, we realized that we were clearly not approaching the issue from the correct angle. We then analyzed the issue and thought of a new approach.

    The next morning, after our son had woken up and used the bathroom, we sked him to get dressed, and told him that he could come to the kitchen for breakfast when he was ready. When he started to protest as usual, we calmly repeated it again, and said that we were not going to discuss the matter any more. When we went to the kitchen, he positioned himself at the closed gate at the end of the hall, going through the usual routine. However, we did not engage him at all in anything related to that issue. Finally, after a long time, he declared that he was dressed and ready for breakfast. Sure enough he was, at the same late time as usual, but we commended him all the same – at least there had been no struggle over it. He had a rushed breakfast and no time to play, and when he complained about this, we simply and calmly pointed out that it was due to him taking a long time to get dressed. The second morning was similar, but a little faster.

    Now here comes the astounding part. The next morning, on just the third day, my son rushes into our room and wakes me up, fully clothed, declaring he wants to go play and have breakfast. We haven’t had any issues with him getting dressed since.

    Similar to Eric’s story, sometimes backing off is the best approach, whether to reduce the attention (albeit negative) that a child is receiving over an issue, or to eliminate the power struggle aspect of the situation, or simply to give them enough space to handle the issue on their own.

  6. teri says:

    I struggled for a long time with the issue of whether or not to force my children to say sorry. I felt that often when you force someone to say sorry it is not genuine and doesn’t actually help the situation. What I found is that I got a much more real and thoughtful response from my child when I stopped him and asked him to look at the child he had wronged. I would then ask, “How do you think Johnny is feeling right now?” Amazingly enough, 9 times out of ten the child was able to identify the other’s feelings. I would then ask, “How do you think you can make it better?” Often the response would be “to say sorry” or “give them a hug”. These responses seemed more heartfelt and the child had the added benefit of learning empathy.

  7. Eric says:

    teri, thanks for commenting.

    Your method accomplishes two things; 1. It gets your child to understand that what they did was wrong. and 2. They decides on their own what the proper response would be. It gives them more control over the situation and as a result they might be more inclined to apologize on their own or say sorry.

  8. Francesca says:

    Hi I did read this article but I also want to poit out one really important and that is thatvi am a tenvyear old girl and when I read this article I felt happy but sad because it is nice to have someone that is a father and can understand there kids feelings and I now as a ten year old girl that I would love to have a father like u but even saying that I really do love my parents but when I was reading the part about your dauter it was so emocinal and I had a tear go down my face
    please fallow up to my eamail as soon as u can

  1. June 7, 2007

    […] a wonderful article over at Husbandhood that illustrates this point: All of us get another chance. Saying Sorry May Not Always Be Necessary relates a father’s efforts to get his daughter to say sorry after hurting her younger […]

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