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Mrs. Brinker: Saying you're sorry vs. being sorry

It is incredibly important to teach what "sorry" means before telling a child to express it.

GREENWOOD, Ind. — We parents have all been there before. Our child does something unkind and we respond with “You say you’re sorry right now!”

But our 13News Education Expert Jennifer Brinker says that might not be the best method for teaching your child to express and experience remorse.  

Dustin Grove: My first question would be, why not make them apologize?

Mrs. Brinker: Well, while I think it is appropriate to teach a child to say “sorry,” that, unfortunately, is often learned as just something you say to get someone to get out of trouble. It is incredibly important to teach what "sorry" means before telling a child to express it. I am not a fan of making kids apologize at school. I will simply ask them how we can fix the situation. They often say, ”I should apologize,” and then I follow that up by asking them, "What does sorry mean?" 

Then I explain that it means two things: 1. I wish I hadn’t done it AND - this is very important - 2. I will do everything in my power to make sure it doesn’t happen again. If someone doesn’t mean both of these things, they really shouldn’t say it because the last thing we want our kids to do is express an emotion that they aren’t feeling.

Dustin Grove: I understand that we don’t just want them to say "I’m sorry" without meaning it, but what do you do when they are little and, for example, throw a toy at someone? What If they are too young to really understand what it means to be sorry? Do you just not have them say anything?

Mrs. Brinker: You have to let them know that they have made a mistake. You can’t take for granted that they know right from wrong 100 percent of the time. This is a teachable moment. So if they throw their toy, that is when you can coach that child by letting them know, ”You could have hurt her, ouch, we have to play nice with our toys.” As they get older, then you should again remind them of what sorry means.

Dustin Grove: You spend your days dealing with discipline at (Greenwood Middle) school. What is the current school take on this?

Mrs. Brinker: You know, the focus really used to be about just punishing and doling out consequences. There are obviously still consequences for our actions, good and bad, but the current focus is more about remedying the situation and teaching replacement behaviors. We want our kids to make good choices because they know it is the right thing to do, not just because they don’t want to be in trouble. Like I mentioned before, when a student has done something wrong and comes to my office, we have a conversation about why the choice was a bad one and then we focus on something much more important than just being sorry, which is how to make it right or try a do-over. 

Kids need help brainstorming to get to this place. It is just important to keep in mind that we not only want kids to do the right thing, but we want them to know why it is the right thing to do and how to handle it when they mess up.

Dustin Grove: Any final advice?

Mrs. Brinker: The last thing I will say is don’t forget that your children are always watching you and learning from you. So make sure that you model this behavior yourself. Make sure you aren’t afraid to apologize and try to make it right when you have made a mistake. I think this is often times harder for us as adults than it is for kids. If you have done or said something that you really shouldn’t have, you have to try to make it right.