I’m Sorry….Possibly The Hardest Simple Phrase to Say!

I’m sorry.

These two little words are not easy to say.

Some people even pride themselves on never saying it.

Some think they say it but it never quite get it right.

“I’m sorry, but …” is one of my least favorite kinds of apologies. It doesn’t count as an “I’m sorry” if it’s followed by a “but”. Ever.  An apology is really very basic. A good solid apology has three simple steps. This formula works with little small events or huge, life altering events.

The three R’s of an apology…

  • Express Regret
  • Take Responsibility
  • Offer Resolution or make it Right

Simple.  A cheat sheet for how to do something that seems really hard.

The tough part is practicing!

So why not use it on the small simple things that happen every day? I regret being late picking you up today. I got distracted and just lost track of time. How can I make this right? (now of course you are a busy mom and if you are a few minutes late I hope their answer is don’t worry about it mom, no big deal, you do so much for me every day I totally understand). But it is showing them how to use the formula. It owns your piece of responsibility so that they too learn how to apologize and take responsibility.

If THEY are late when you are picking them up, it gives you the chance to say, you were late and are wasting my time, I’d like an apology. Instead of “OMG, mom, whatever, it was like 5 minutes, what’s the big deal?”, you might get,  “I regret wasting your and I take responsibility for stopping to talk to my friends when I knew you were waiting, how can I make this up to you?” Wouldn’t that be fun?? Or weird. But either way it is a great way to practice apologizing.

There are a million fears in parenting a teenager, but one of my biggest is that my kids will make a mistake that cannot be taken back. A mistake that can not be fixed with a grounding or consequence or that cannot be undone and will stay with them their whole lives. Teens cause horrible traffic accidents by texting and driving, teens kill one another in stupid pranks and making poor decisions, teens say hurtful words and contribute to bullying that can ultimately lead to suicide. None of these mistakes can be undone. The guilt we carry into our adult lives can be a heavy load to bear.

So let’s teach our kids how to apologize for the times in their life when they will really need it.  Hurting people we care about is a guarantee in life. But the three R’s of an apology is the formula they need to work through just about any apology needed in life. The “how can I make it right” part isn’t always going to be clear or easy, but at least they know it is their regret and their responsibility and within their power to find the way to make it right. Show them how to make it right  with the little things along the way, and you will be giving them a chance to carry less guilt with them every day.

The best way to teach teenagers to apologize is to apologize to them and show them how it is done, talk to them and walk them through apologies they need to make, or point out great apologies when you see one. Or try this handout. Maybe when they are struggling to give an apology or accept a friend’s apology, this visual format will help them fine tune their own apology or might help them identify what is missing from an apology given to them.

A message to teenagers:

Apologies are hard. No one likes to say, “I’m sorry”. And saying it to your parents is the worst punishment in the world! Apologies are really hard when you are feeling mad and you don’t really feel sorry! We get that! But apologies are so important in life. Someday you are going to hurt someone’s feelings you really care about. Maybe not on purpose, but it will happen. You are going to have a huge fight with someone you really care about someday. You are going to make mistakes. We all do. The biggest fear from those that love you, is that sometimes really bad stuff happens; a really serious injury, permanent damage to a person or property or worst of all someone dies. These things can happen to any of us. Any one of us can make a mistake that really hurts someone. And those are the kind of mistakes that can haunt us for life. They can settle in as guilt and shame.  So many adults don’t like themselves for things they have done and they wind up being angry at the world or afraid of the world. No one wants that kind of life for you. So the little apologies along the way teach you how to use the three R’s (which feels pretty lame right now) but gets you ready for the bigger ones you will need someday. If you learn to apologize for all of the little things, you will know how to apologize for the big things. By using this apology and practicing the last step of what can I do to make it right, you will have learned how to deal with guilt and shame. And that is huge!

Here is a cheat sheet for making an apology easier:

  • Express Regret
  • Take Responsibility
  • Offer Resolution or make it Right

Think of three things you are sorry for. If you’ve got nothing, think of three things someone else thinks you should feel sorry about. Practice writing out an apology using the three R’s.

Apology Practice

I regret____________________________________________________________________.

I take responsibility for_________________________________________________________________.

I will do ____________________________________________________to make up for my actions.



I am sorry for  _______________________________________________________. It was my fault for ___________________________________________________________________________________________.

I will make it up to you by _______________________________________________________________.



Joy Hartman is passionate about empowering teens to become strong, confident adults! She works with teens of all ages as a family therapist in Wisconsin and has the unique experience of raising three moody, eye-rolling teenagers of her own. For more fun and support on this crazy roller coaster ride of parenting teenagers, join Joy and hundreds of other parents at: Joyhartman.com or Facebook

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