“I’m sorry.” is often something we try to get kids to say from early on.
That is important.
But it is even more important for kids and for ourselves to be or feel sorry and use that feeling to make ourselves better.
Saying you are sorry is more about you than about the other person.
Consider these 3 steps to an apology:
I’m sorry for…
Next time I will…
I’m sorry for pulling your hair because I know it hurt you. Next time I will try to get you to look at me by calling your name instead.
I’m sorry for yelling at you. That does not show how much I care about you. I will try harder to be kind even when I’m upset.
I’m Sorry For…
In this part say what you did wrong.
This part is uncomfortable. You have to swallow your pride a little. (Well… sometimes a lot.)
But if you cannot say what you specifically did wrong, it’s unlikely you can feel sorry for it let alone make it better.
Say why your action was not what you should have done.
This part is the part you teach yourself. You remind yourself why what you did was wrong.
You remind yourself why it wasn’t in line with the kind of person you want to be.
It clarifies to your mind that you believe those actions are wrong and shouldn’t be repeated.
Next time I will…
Say what you will do differently in this situation.
And then actually do it.
This step may be important for the other person, but it is vital for you.
This is the part that helps your brain (or a child’s brain) know there is a different option.
The more you think of different options the more likely it is you’ll recall that option next time you’re in a similar situation.
It may be hard to think of things to say here. It may take some practice.
If you are working with a child on apologizing it’s ok to help them think of ideas for this part (or any part). Remember the bigger picture of what you want them to learn… It’s not just about saying sorry this time. It’s about them being able to recognize when they acted inappropriately and being able to correct their own behavior. Eventually.
This process of apologizing will help them do that.
Apologizing is not a punishment.
It’s a learning opportunity.
So don’t withhold your help.
Guide them through the process if needed.
Of course, after guiding them a few times you might want to back off a little and let them do more of it. Don’t let your help become an out for them to not put in the effort of thinking it through.
This process is simple enough for kids to use and meaningful enough for anyone, even in big situations.
The exact phrases aren’t important. You don’t have to say, “Next time I will….” every time you apologize.
But you should say something about a different behavior you will try.
This process will change behavior and that is what an apology is all about.
Remember you are not only apologizing for the other person, but for yourself.
You are not changing your behavior for the other person, but for yourself. To make yourself more of the wonderful person you can be!
An apology could also include you asking if the person accepts your apology. Sometimes that sounds like, “Will you forgive me?”
And you could ask the person what you could do to make it up to them or what you could do to repair the relationship. Then whether they give you ideas or not, try to find a way to act on this, because…
It’s about connection
Apologizing might be difficult, but it also has the power of connection.
Expressing genuine apology when needed (with behavior that shows you’re willing to back it up with your actions) will bring you closer to your spouse, your kids, your co-workers, your in-laws, anyone.