Why I’m Asking My Kids to Stop Saying “I’m Sorry!”

“I’m sorry mom, but I have to do this.” I looked over at my four year old, perched on our couch, wearing a grin as she jumped into, and demolished a tower of Magna-Tiles she had just built.

She wasn’t sorry, of course, because she wasn’t really doing something wrong. It caught me by surprise the first time I noticed it: my daughter was apologizing about everything, even silly antics like diving off the couch and crashing into her toys. If she bumped into me by mistake, she said it. If she wanted to do something she knew she shouldn’t, she apologized long before she started getting into trouble. If I was trying to talk through her latest fight with her sibling, she would blurt it out like a get out of jail free card and run off to her next playtime activity.

Lately, I have come to realize that we are really bad at apologizing in our home. We use it when we don’t mean and when we really owe each other “I’m sorry,” it’s quick and thoughtless, a way to just make peace. So I’ve decided to stop asking my daughter to say sorry altogether. It’s not as if it’s a four letter word, but I really don’t want her saying it unless she means it.

I think my husband thinks I’ve completely let go of all of my parenting ideals, but I’d rather re-teach to say I’m sorry when it’s important than her carry this habit of meaningless apologies forever.

So, we’re starting from scratch. Of course, if she has done something kind of awful and she is truly remorseful, I don’t correct her. Outside of that, I keep stepping in to ask questions that help her to better understand the power of that word. I ask stuff like why she is sorry or what she thinks she has done wrong. I keep explaining to my daughter that sorry is a word for really specific circumstances, when we have hurt someone. I try to help her understand that using it when we don’t mean it or when we’ve done nothing wrong, completely cheapens the word. I want my daughter to feel sorry for the things she does that hurt others but I also don’t want her using “I’m sorry” when it doesn’t mean anything.

For me, this is a bigger issue than whether or not she means what she is saying. It seems like women have a complicated relationship with the word sorry. We sure do say that word a lot, don’t we? We apologize for the space we take up in the world, we apologize for being too much or too loud or having opinions. We use it navigate situations when we feel unsure of ourselves. For me, I fall back on this word to keep the peace. If I sense that someone is growing uncomfortable with my opinions or my actions, even when I am in the right, I found myself spewing apologies left and right. It’s a terrible habit and before I can expect my daughter to make changes, I need to start with myself.

Before I can expect my daughter to stop throwing around apologies absentmindedly, I need to model well thought out apologies when I am remorseful and avoid using the world altogether when it doesn’t have a place. I need to stop using the word as a filler or something to fall back on when I am feeling insecure. It’s not an easy habit to break, but just being aware that I’m the one who taught her helps me to catch myself making this mistake.

Like so much of parenting, learning to stop saying I’m sorry so much isn’t just about a quick behavioral change. I’ve had to dig down and recognize why I feel insecure enough in my choices to apologize. I’ve had to heal that part of me that feels I owe others an apology for who I am so that I am can be a whole person and a mom who leads my kids by example with confidence in who I am and graciousness when I truly have failed.