Why We Told Our Kids to Stop Saying “Sorry”

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“Stop telling me you’re sorry.”

You wouldn’t believe the raised eyebrows and looks I get when I say that to my kids.

That’s quickly followed up with, “I appreciate you telling me, but the only way that I’ll know that you truly mean it, is when you start showing me with your actions and behaviors.”

I want my children to truly understand that while words are extremely powerful, and should not be tossed carelessly around, their actions can quite easily make their words meaningless.

My 7-year-old would run across the street without stopping and looking, and when he would get caught, he’d say “I’m sorry.”

Over.

And over.

And over.

He would leave his shoes downstairs in the middle of the floor, leave his toys out to be tripped over, and with each reminder — each questioning of him — he would repeat “I’m sorry.”

I sat him down and asked him, what does it mean to you when you tell me that you’re sorry?

He said that it meant he knew what he was doing was wrong and he was apologizing because he was sorry that he’d done wrong.

I sat quietly looking into his long lashed, hazel eyes, and then told him that his sorry didn’t mean anything…

{insert pause here}

His eyes grew wide, and his cheeks pinked in disbelief underneath his freckles.

“MOM!!! That’s so mean,” he gasped at me.

“Your sorries don’t mean anything when your behavior shows me that you aren’t sorry at all.  When you tell us you’re sorry, but you continue the behavior your sorry loses it’s meaning.  It becomes empty,” I replied.

He looked down at his folded hands, and back up to me with earnest eyes.  “You don’t believe I’m sorry?” he asked with a trembling lip.

I told him that I believed that he meant it in the moment. But he quickly forgot and repeated the behavior because perhaps his dad and I weren’t doing all we should to help him to remember the right behavior, and how to prove he was sorry through his powerful actions.

We’ve since worked with both kids, and it only takes a gently spoken Stop saying you’re sorry” to remind them that while we do appreciate their apology, and that their words are very important, their actions and change in behavior are appreciated the most, and the proof to us that they are trying, learning, and listening.

The unexpected benefit of this practice, is that both my husband and I have become more conscious of our words versus our actions, and we’re making more of an effort to match our words to our actions, and to sometimes let our actions be the only thing necessary.

Whether it’s through gestures of love, unspoken help to each other or others… whatever it is, this has been just another lesson in parenting, and we’re learning each day.

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