Saying "I'm Sorry" to Students

Saying "I'm Sorry" to Students

How to Say Sorry to Your Kids

“Saying ‘I’m sorry’ is saying ‘I love you’ with a wounded heart in one hand and your smothered pride in the other.” - author Richell E. Goodrich ‘Making Wishes’ 

Our Elementary school was an open school when I served as a parent volunteer in my oldest child’s first-grade class. As I sat cutting out a fun Christmas art project for my child’s teacher, I could clearly hear the teacher next door berating her students for poor behavior.  This teacher went so far as to tell the children Santa Claus wasn’t going to visit them this year 

What did the children learn from this ‘No Santa for you’ teacher?  They might not have been able to express it, but as I watched that class for the remainder of the year, I realized they learned she didn’t tell the truth. She had no control over Santa or them. 

Was there a way for this teacher to regain respect and control of her class?  Absolutely!  A simple, “I am sorry. I made a mistake.” would have given her a new opportunity. 

Dr. Kate Roberts, a former professor of psychiatry at Brown University, tells us when adults apologize to children, they role model accountability. Accepting responsibility for a mistake is more important than the mistake itself. 


Help teach our kids the following truths by telling them ‘I’m sorry’ when it is warranted: 

  • Children deserve respect just like an adult does. Remember an apology will strengthen your relationship with the child. 
  • They can be imperfect and capable at the same time. 
  • Mistakes happen.  Taking responsibility for mistakes is a natural part of the learning process. 
  • Owning up to a mistake is not weakness.  It is a sign of courage and requires true self-esteem. 
  • Living a lie is worse than admitting a mistake. 

Most people don’t like to admit when they are wrong.  Apologizing in general can be hard.  By modeling the following apologizing techniques, you will help teach your children responsibility and awareness: 

  • Give a brief explanation, when you are apologizing to your child.  “I’m sorry.  I ate the last cookie.  I should have made sure you had one before I ate it.” 
  • Apologize as soon as you recognize an apology is needed.  Letting a child stew in the offence continues to make the child feel bad and may make your apology appear manipulative. 
  • Don’t shift the blame to the child as part of your apology.  That isn’t an apology.  “I’m sorry I yelled at you.  If you would just do your chore as I asked, I wouldn’t have to resort to yelling. 
  • Don’t undermine the child’s emotions.  Just because something would not have upset you, it doesn’t mean it didn’t create ill feelings for the child.I’m sorry I’ve hurt your feelings.  You’ve got to just learn how to take a joke.” 
  • Tell the child you are going to work harder to not make the same mistake again. “I’m going to work at not yelling anymore.”  Mistakes do continue to happen.  However, a child can tell if you are making a sincere effort to change.  It is even wise to enlist the child’s help.  “Please let me know if I start yelling and ask me to count to ten? 

I am happy to report the “No Santa for you” teacher changed.  My youngest had her for first grade twelve years after I overheard her threaten her class.  I was concerned when the year started, but it quickly became clear she treated the students with cooperative respect. 

She had learned the secret Dr. Roberts spells out.  Apologizing to a child provides the child with a sense of safety and well-being and helps encourage the child to do their best. 


Article by Miss Jae 


Roberts, Kate. “When Parents Say “I’m Sorry,” They are Saying so Much More.” Psychology Today. 2013.

“The Importance of Apologizing to Children.” Exploring Your Mind. 2020.

Mlyniec, Vickey. “Learning to Say “I’m Sorry.” Parents Magazine. 2005.

McCready, Amy. “7 Steps for Apologizing to Your Child.” Positive Parenting Solutions.


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