Things to say (and not say) when apologizing to your children

I was running a few minutes late picking up my daughter from her afterschool activity.  She opened the car door as I quickly said, “I’m sorry I’m late.”

“No problem.  I just got here myself,” she replied with a smile.

We want to raise children who own up for their mistakes and seek reconciliation, not kids who just unfriend, ignore, or lamely text back IMS (I am sorry).

Kids will learn from watching our modeling of apology – after all, we as parents do make mistakes!  The parent who reasons “I don’t want to apologize to my children because they will lose respect for me” is mistaken.  The fact is the parent who sincerely apologizes to a child has just increased the child’s respect for that parent.  Our kids know when we have done wrong.  That offense sits as a barrier between us.  Some of our finest, most honest moments emerge when we say we’re sorry. Now there are things to say (and not say) when apologizing to your kids.

Do you want to use best practices for apologies that actually work?  If so, omit these phrases when you are apologizing:

Haven’t you gotten over that yet?

I should be excused because I…

Why do you always…?

If you hadn’t…

That’s just silly.

You’re acting like a baby.

You just need to get over it.

Why can’t you just forget about it?

You’re too sensitive.  I was only joking.

Your sister (or brother) would not have been upset by what I did.

Body language can make or break the power of an apology. Be sure that you maintain eye contact. Don’t cross your arms defensively. Listen with concern and speak with a calm tone of voice.  Then, choose words that do not blame others, excuse yourself, or deny responsibility. Here are a few things to say when apologizing:

I did it, and I have no excuse.

I’m responsible for the mistake.

I was careless.

I was insensitive.

I was rude.

I will do the work to fix my mistake.

My heart aches over what I’ve done.

You didn’t deserve that kind of treatment.

You have every right to be upset.

I know that what I did was wrong.

I will rebuild your trust by…

I will try to make this up to you by…

I’ve put you in a very difficult position.

I hope I haven’t waited too long to say I am sorry.

Can you forgive me?

As we apologize more skillfully and sincerely at home, it will help our kids do the same.  We don’t want our sons and daughters to be limited to texting or posting “sorry.”  We want them to be able to apologize in person. If they can learn that with us, it will make a world of difference in their future relationships.

Now read this: Dear Mom and Dad: Don’t be a bystander 

Arlene Pellicane is a speaker and author of several books including Calm, Cool, and Connected: 5 Digital Habits for a More Balanced Lifeand Parents Rising: 8 Strategies for Raising Kids Who Love God, Respect Authority, and Value What’s Right.  Learn more at


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