Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash
Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

Saying Sorry

Question

Our 14-year-old daughter is a precious young lady with many strengths.  Unfortunately, she isn’t very good at taking responsibility for things she says and does that wound others.  It’s always “their” problem.  How can we help her learn the value of a sincere “I’m sorry”?

Answer

“I’m sorry” are two small words that some people find almost impossible to say.  Then there are others who say “sorry” all the time but don’t really mean it.  What does “I’m sorry” mean?  Bummer?  Oops?  That’s too bad?

Saying “I’m sorry” involves being mature enough to notice when I’ve said or done something that might have caused someone pain.  It involves the willingness to step outside of myself and how I may have been wronged, and walk a few hundred yards (or perhaps even a mile) in their shoes.  To acknowledge their reality.  To think about what things might look like through their eyes and feel with their heart.  True sorrow involves moving out of immaturity and selfishness through empathy into saying and doing something to encourage, help and heal.

When do the words “I’m sorry” become meaningless?  When I don’t acknowledge the problem, notice the pain, when I don’t accept any responsibility that I may have, or when I say “I’m sorry” repeatedly and nothing changes.  Our challenge is to help our children learn how to say “I’m sorry” and to really mean it.  But this is easier said than done.

The most powerful way to teach your daughter the power of “I’m sorry” is to model it for her.  Look for opportunities to express sincere sorrow and regret with each other, with your family and friends.  Talk about how and why you decided to say “I’m sorry,” why that’s important to you and how it matters.

It’s also helpful to talk her though a specific situation when she was criticized, slammed, insulted or ignored.  What did that feel like?  Help her name her specific feelings and describe her pain.  How did she feel about herself?  About the other person?

Then take a situation where she said or did something unkind to someone else and didn’t say “I’m sorry.”  What might that have felt like to the other person?  How does she feel about causing another person that kind of pain?

The ability to say “I’m sorry” is a sign of emotional intelligence that builds respect and trust, feels good, says that I’m mature enough to care about making a positive difference in someone else’s life and reflects the reality of a God who tells us that the greatest commandment is to love.

Gary J. Oliver, ThM, PhD
Executive Director at Center for Healthy Relationships | + posts

Dr. Oliver is the Executive Director of The Center for Healthy Relationships, and professor of Psychology and Practical Theology at John Brown University.  He has authored over 20 books and more than 350 professional and popular articles.  Dr. Oliver has over 40 years’ experience as a Clinical Psychologist, Marriage  & Family Therapist and Spiritual Director.  He leads seminars & workshops both nationally and internationally on a variety of counseling-related issues, healthy relationships as well as Emotional & Relational Intelligence (ERI).

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