The Art in "I'm Sorry"

Dowd Simpson

06 Sep, 2015

The Art in “I’m Sorry”

I am sorry. Three simple words, strung together, in their presence and in their absence can have a profound impact.

I don't want to force my kids to say I’m sorry. I don't want it to become about behavior modification rather than Holy Spirit transformation. But I do believe that this is a characteristic of human behavior that must be learned. I don’t think this is something that comes naturally, the bent toward apology. I mean think about the first time your child ever did something hurtful to another child, like take their toy or push them out of the circle. What did your child do? Probably just stared at the crying toddler. What if we did that as adults? What if we never learned to apologize and just stared at people when we hurt them instead? I am pretty sure that would not get us very far in the advancement of our social skills or our friendship building abilities. We would live in a world of heartless egocentricity. The point is, the art of apology is something that has to be learned, something we as parents and grandparents, teachers and caregivers, aunts and uncles, and moms and dads need to nurture and cultivate in the character of our little ones. The apology should be a necessity for the growth and overall developmental health of a child on the individual level, and our society on the global scale. So I write this not only encouraging the growth of this trait in our babies, but also in ourselves. Better late than never to learn.

But what makes us want to apologize? That is the question. If we can get at the heart of this, then we have the bedrock on which to build this abecedarian principal into the elementary hearts and minds of our children.

When it comes to issuing an apology, I think what prompts me to want to apologize is an understanding of how I made the other person feel. So if I can nourish the trait of empathy in my child then I might be on to something. Empathy is the genesis! Empathy is the catalyst! Empathy is the train that will carry our children from narcissism to altruism.

So what to do? When my child has hurt someone else, I suggest to him or her that they put themselves in the position of the friend who's feelings they hurt. How would that action of hurt, if it were done to them, make them feel? If someone took your toy from you, how would that make you feel? Once they can name that emotion, our job is to continue to recognize it, validate the feeling and process through it, on both ends. With the nourishment of empathy, the hope is that our children will be able to understand how their friend is feeling and how they feel when an offense happens to them. Mission one accomplished, the naming of an emotion. Next step, the mending of a relationship.

Isn’t that what we all want? To live in harmony with others? What if the art of saying “I’m sorry” was exactly that - artistic. What if it was an encouraged expression of creativity and unique to the individual rather than a forced, uniform habit of homogeneity in the lives of little ones? So here’s a thought, what if I encouraged my child to think creatively about what would make them, when they are feeling sad after someone hurt their feelings, feel better. Rather than forcing my children to apologize maybe I encourage them to communicate to their friend who's feelings they hurt something that would make their own feelings feel better if someone had hurt them. 

I feel like there's a parallel here between the infamous five love languages, articulated by Gary Chapman in his book, “The Five Love Languages.”

Words of Affirmation
Physical Touch
Gift Giving
Acts of Service

Okay, bare with me here for this rough, hopefully unoffensive parallel. The five love languages could possibly transfer over to the five languages of apology.


       For example: A child might write a letter of apology. 
       For example: A child might draw a picture. 
       For example: A child might say I am sorry.

Physical Touch

       For example: A child might gently hug the person whose feelings were offended.
       For example: A child might hold the hand of the person whose feeling they offended.

Gift Giving

       For example: A child might say I am sorry by giving a gift, like a flower or the book they were playing with as a peace offering.


       For example: A child might sit next to the child with hurt feelings.
       For example: A child might include the child whose feelings they hurt in their next activity of play.

Acts of Service

       For example: A child might rebuild the tower that they just knocked down of the person whose feelings they just hurt.
       For example: A child might go and get the offended child’s favorite toy, lovie or pacie to help them feel better.

I think that this will not only encourage empathy but it will encourage creativity. Even more it will encourage their individual expression. How they give and receive love is a unique quality unto themselves so why would I expect the way that they give and receive forgiveness be any different. My hope is that this will serve as a firm foundation in which to build healthy communication and conflict resolution strategies that will carry over into their adult lives. 

I welcome any thoughts, comments or concerns. I want to grow as a parent and open my mind to lots of different thoughts and philosophies. We are not alone in this precious blessing.