Forgiveness is more than sayin’ sorry.

One of my husband’s favorite movies is Just Friends. The main character’s crazy girlfriend  is famous pop star with a terrible voice. Although her music wouldn’t be a hit today, there is some truth to her catchy lyrics: “Forgiveness is more than sayin’ sorry.”

Asking for forgiveness and apologizing is an art form. By definition, an apology acknowledges that the person was involved in a previous act that violated a social norm and was considered offensive. Usually words of repentance are included in the apology, like “I’m sorry,” “I regret,” “excuse me,” “pardon me,” or “forgive me.”

The 4 key elements of an apology.

A cross-cultural research study defined the four key elements of an apology:

  1. An explanation of the offense.
  2. An expression of my responsibility in the offense.
  3. An offer to repair the damage.
  4. A promise to not repeat the offense.

The question remains: should I apologize to my kids? Let’s review what research has concluded about children and apologies.

How apologies affect kids.

One study examined what kids thought about people who had damaged one of their belongings. If the transgressor expressed remorse for their actions, the kids found them to be more likable, viewed them as more sorry, and thought the act had been done unintentionally. But the kids thought that transgressor who had a bad reputation apologized only to avoid punishment and not because they were truly sorry.

How does this impact your parent-child relationship? This study seems to generalize that if you apologize and share your regrets for your actions, your child will find you to be more likable, more sorry, and think that you didn’t mean it.

Similar to the last experiment, this one examined that kids forgive the transgressor more if they apologize, and also find them to be more moral when they do so. But, older kids only accepted the apology if it was seen as genuine, while it didn’t make a difference to younger children.

How does this impact your parent-child relationship? If you are genuinely sorry, your kids will be more likely to believe your apology and will view your as more moralistic.

Another experiment surprisingly discovered that apologizing later was more effective that apologizing earlier because they victim felt that they had a chance to be heard and understood first.

How does this impact your parent-child relationship? Before jumping to an apology, give your child a chance to share what offended them and to express their emotions.

According to another study, If you offer a full apology (with the four elements discussed above), you are more likely to be forgiven, especially if you committed a serious offense. Plus, reducing your anger makes your apology more effective.

How does this impact your parent-child relationship? Intentionally release your anger before offering an apology to your child. Fully explain your offense, why you did it, attempt to repair the damage, and share that you don’t intend to do it again.

Consider the implications.

Research has found that kids want to offer forgiveness and don’t want to assume that you would intentionally harm them, but they also want to be heard and expect a full apology. Be courageous: admit your mistakes to your kids and ask for forgiveness from your child. Incorporate the four key elements listed above into your apology. Remember that kids don’t come with a user manual and we aren’t perfect parents…so we will mess up. What better way to teach your kids how to apologize than to model it yourself!


Jana is the odd one out. Not a parent herself, she writes from the perspective of a young baby sitter. Experienced in making bedtime fun, she brings a unique perspective to parenting. She hopes that all she learns now will make the magic of being a parent just that extra bit special. She has no fixed address and is vagabonding around the globe, widening her world view.