Words Your Child Needs From You, Part V: “I’m Sorry, Please Forgive Me”

Mommy Apologizes to Her ChildParents make mistakes. Kids are quick to catch them. When you’re caught, your next move will powerfully shape your child’s character.

Do you know how to apologize for your mistakes?

See how you would fare in this scenario–Putting your little one into the car, you accidentally shut the door on her fingers. Youch! Your child is bawling, and you feel doubly awful. You feel sad that your child is hurt, and guilty because you caused that hurt. Sadness is easy to express. There’s no shame in sadness. But what do you do with the guilt? Be careful, now. Guilty feelings can prompt you to act badly: you just want that icky guilt to go away.

There’s just one good cure for guilt. Keep reading to find out what it is.

Okay, let’s say you’ve hugged your child and put an ice pack on her poor, throbbing fingers. She knows you made a mistake. And so do you. Which of these would you say next?

  1. “If you would stay in your seat, these things wouldn’t happen.”
  2. “I’m sorry. But if you had stayed in your seat this wouldn’t have happened.”
  3. “I’m sorry for shutting the door on your fingers. Please forgive me.”

If you choose answer #1, you will merely:

  • shift the blame for the accident onto your child’s tiny shoulders
  • deny that you’re an adult who had control over how the door shut
  • teach your child a lesson in how to dodge responsibility

If you choose answer #2, you will:

  • say that you regret that the accident happened
  • shift the blame onto your child anyway
  • teach your child how to act sorry while still dodging responsibility

"Never ruin an apology with an excuse," said Benjamin Franklin.

If, on the other hand, you choose answer #3, you will successfully:

  • express true remorse. (You say you’re sorry, with no excuses.)
  • take responsibility for your own actions. (You say exactly what you’re apologizing for.)
  • teach your child how to take responsibility, apologize honestly, and appeal for forgiveness.

There’s the secret we were waiting for: Forgiveness—that’s the best cure for guilt. Shifting blame only hides guilt under lies. No one feels better. But a true apology offers your child two things: acknowledgment of the pain and anger she feels at being hurt, and a way to restore your injured relationship by forgiving you.

A true apology recognizes the pain you caused and asks for the forgiveness you need. Click To Tweet


Apologizing isn’t easy. Especially if you were not apologized to as a child. If you’d like to improve your parenting skills in this area, stop by Choices and ask to view our Homes of Honor parenting series on DVD.

Mention you heard about Homes of Honor in this blog, and receive an extra Baby Buck to spend.


Are you wondering how all this apologizing works? Read these FAQs for help–

Do parents who apologize lose their children’s respect? No. Children know we parents make mistakes. Owning up to our mistakes shows our kids we know the difference between right and wrong, and that we want to do right. They will have more faith in us, and consequently, more respect for us.

When should I apologize? As soon as possible. Delaying robs your apology of power and sincerity.

Isn’t saying “I’m sorry” enough? Not quite. The best apology contains two more ingredients. It states what you’re sorry for—so your child knows that you know what you did wrong—and appeals for forgiveness. Teach your child how to forgive, and you’ll strengthen all her future relationships. As Martin Luther King, Jr., put it well:

Martin Luther King, Jr. on the Power to Forgive

What if my child says, “It’s no big deal”? Apologize anyway. Kids sometimes try to seem tough, like nothing bothers them. But being hurt does bother them, and our apology gives them permission to admit they felt hurt. Kids need to know they have a right not to be victims.

What if my child won’t forgive me? You can never force anyone to forgive. Give your child time to work up to it. Meanwhile, take these steps while your child processes the hurt:

  • Forgive yourself. Recognize you’re not perfect, and commit to doing better next time.
  • Model forgiving. Show your child that you forgive those who wrong you, too.
  • Reject revenge. Sometimes children, like adults, want to punish those who wrong them. If your child tries this approach, point it out to them and refuse to accept that behavior.

What if it’s not my fault? Don’t apologize for things you have no control over. For example, if the weather spoils your plans, you can say, “It’s such a bummer that the rain kept us from going to the pool.” You can’t control other people’s behavior, either, so say, “I feel sad with you that so-and-so let you down.” Statements like these show your child that you understand why he feels hurt, without your taking on any undue guilt.


By the way, a good book on talking with your children is Words Kids Needs to Hear, by David Stall, Zondervan.