How to apologise.

I am a serial apologist. Even when things aren’t my fault, for the most trivial things and for things that are outside my control. I’m not even aware I am doing it half the time- it just slips out as easily as I breathe. I really don’t like to make people uncomfortable and I am sure that is what drives my need to apologise for breathing the same air as you.

My daughter Amy pointed it out to me and I have made a huge effort to stop and think and be super aware of what slips out. My partner recently commented that I had got heaps better but maybe I was just replacing it with thank you!

I try to be reflective of my part in any situation and I have made it a habit to take responsibility and ownership when things don’t quite go right or when I make mistakes. These are actually great qualities and I do recommend that people reflect on their part in any situation. However, when this is done in an unhealthy way it is very self-destructive and can have the opposite of the desired outcome- and also really annoying to the people around you! This is part of my people-pleasing nature and I am so sorry that I have passed parts of these qualities down to my children- not the best kind of parental modelling!

So what drives us to over –apologising?

Women from my generation were raised to feel guilty if we were anything less than an emotional support to others. It was expected of us and thrust on us- having a Catholic upbringing didn’t help either as guilt is a huge part of getting you to conform to beliefs. We were raised to feel responsible for everyone and everything. Amy Poehler famously said, “It takes years as a woman to unlearn what you have been taught to be sorry for.”

Harriet Lerner talks about the importance of apologising but that it has to be an actual apology not just a way to end a discussion or to blame the other person or to seek forgiveness for yourself. She talks about taking the ‘but’ out of an apology. It is not an apology if you say

‘I am sorry …. But you made me angry ‘

‘I am sorry that you feel that way’

These aren’t apologises but a way to place the blame back onto you.

Harriet says:

“A heartfelt apology means accepting responsibility for our mistakes without a hint of excuse making or evasion, even if the other person can’t do the same. Sure we may be convinced that we’re only 37% to blame, but we can save our different perspective for a future conversation where it can be a subject of conversation and not a defence strategy.”

She also talks about how people can try and force an apology out of you. Think of the times you have said to children “Say sorry for what you did!” Even when they are clearly not sorry. We are teaching children that “sorry” can get them out of trouble and if you have been hurt your feelings don’t matter as long as someone apologises.

She says

“Here’s what’s true: You do not need to forgive in order to let go of the corrosive effects of negative emotions. And it’s not our job to encourage others to forgive. Pushing forgiveness can traumatize the hurt party all over again. (“What your dad did to you happened a long time ago, and he was a sick man. Don’t you think it’s time that you forgive him and move on?”). It’s the last thing the injured party needs to hear. We do need to find ways to protect ourselves from the burden of carrying anger and resentment that isn’t serving us, and to grab some peace of mind. We can achieve this with or without forgiveness.”

This is a book I would thoroughly recommend you read. It's also important to remeber that when you give an apology not to expect anything in return. Sometimes people apologise to make themselves feel better and want to hear

"That's okay"


"I'm sorry too- I over reacted."

You do not need to give any answer except

"I appreciate your apology"

Not everyone is okay with that so be prepared!

What can I say instead of over apologising?

Instead of saying “I’m sorry,” say:

· excuse me

· pardon me

· go ahead

· after you

· your turn

Instead of saying “sorry to interrupt you,” say:

· I’d like to add

· I have an idea

· I’d like to expand on that…

· This is something I have found works

Instead of saying “sorry to complain,” try instead:

· Thank you for listening

· I have some feedback for you

Instead of apologising in an email, consider saying:

· Thank you for catching that

· I appreciate you bringing this error to my attention

If you’re running a little late, :

· Thank you for waiting for me

How can we teach children how to apologise sincerely

It is really important that we teach children that what they do impacts on themselves and others. And that if they have been wronged that their feelings matter.

  • Model a good apology

Make sure they know that if we make a mistake we will apologise for it, an apology with no buts in it! If we yell at them, we apologise for using a loud voice. It will teach them that if we make a mistake we can repair the damage we have caused.

  • Don't force an apology

All too often we make children so sorry and then it is all magically better. However, if they broke their sister's toy saying sorry doesn't fix that. Always consider what they can do to fix the probelem they created. Being punched or called names doesn't mean the hurt stops because you said sorry to me.

  • Teach conflict resolution skills

Children don't automatically know how to resolve conflicts. We need to model and teach these to them. Role play and the use of puppets in a classroom are a great way to do this. Usually after a conflict there are high emotions so :

Step 1: Teach calming skills

Step 2: Teach them how to state and understand the problem

Step 3: Help them see the other person's perspective

Step 4: Help them find a solution that suits all parties through compromise

Step 5: Follow up with future teaching

  • Don't lecture

I know it's tempting to think this is a time to let them know what was wrong with what they did. Try instead to get them to reflect on their behaviour and the impact on the person they hurt. This helps to teach them that they should take responsibility for their emotions and that while it’s okay to feel mad, sad or frustrated, the action that resulted was not.

Try and get them to think about the other person and what their actions did that effected them.  “How do you think it made your friend feel when you wouldn't let them join in?"

By using questions, you can help your child understand the feelings that triggered the bad behavior and give them tools to respond appropriately next time.

  • Punishment doesn't help

Children are far better off being taught a restorative way.

What did I do that hurt that person?

What could I do to make it right?

A verbal apology is a great start if the child is sorry, but since children best learn through action, it’s good to pair it with an act of kindness such as helping fix what was broken or repair the harm in a way that is meaningful.

It is important you allow time between the misbehaviour and its apology as this will lead to a more sincere “sorry.”  Given some time and space, children can better understand their actions, and take responsibility, by developing the empathy that is needed to learn from their mistakes.

  • Books!

And as always books- always a great way to teach important skills.

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