From a young age, most moms try to ingrain the phrase, “I am sorry,” into their children. As a child is learning to share and play with other friends, it is inevitable that there will be some toy stealing, maybe pushing, a few tears, and, when that happens, as a parent, we start pushing the sorry phrase.
But what does “sorry” really mean to a young child? We want our children to apologize to teach them empathy for others. However, what I noticed when we were teaching our oldest daughter about apologies was that it was her automatic response when she did something wrong, but she did not know what the words really meant or why she should be saying them.
After my second daughter was born, my daughters and I had some trying days; toddler plus newborn with a tired mom equals some very grumpy family moments. One day, the patience I always tried to have with my daughters was shorter than normal, and I snapped at my poor older daughter quicker than I should have. I took a few deep breathes and realized my girl was only being a toddler. It was not her fault (well partially her fault) that I was so tired. I immediately sat her down and apologized. I told her how sorry I was and explained why I snapped at her, why that was wrong and what I should have done instead. My sweet girl looked up at me and said, “That’s okay mama,” and gave me a hug. In that moment I realized how important it was for me to apologize to my children when I was in the wrong.
Saying sorry to our children helps them understand what sorry really means, especially if we do it in the right way. Not just “sorry” and move on, but stopping and looking at the people we hurt in the eyes, saying sorry for what we did and how next time we can act differently. I think modeling sorry as a more teachable moment helps my daughters become more empathetic, which is truly what I want.
The other really important reason to say sorry is that it shows children that everyone makes mistakes, including mamas, and that we respect our children enough to know when we made a mistake and to own up to it.
Now that my oldest daughter is four and understands more when she has the knee-jerk “sorry” response, I always ask her why she is sorry (even if it is super obvious). I want her to realize she is saying sorry for a reason, and by not just going through the motions of an apology, it becomes a great teaching moment.
I want my girls to go out into the world and be strong, amazing women but I also want them to recognize when they need to make an apology and how to do it impactfully. Everyone makes mistakes, but not everyone makes a sincere apology.