A parent’s guide to interpreting “I’m sorry”

I’ve always felt like I have a fairly decent command of the English language and of communication in general.  I studied it for four years in college, I did some writing for a couple of newspapers, and I do a decent job of making myself understood in most situations. I’ve learned about tone, nonverbal cues and proper ways to have meaningful dialogues.  What I did not realize until I had kids, was that sometimes a word that seems pretty straightforward can have so many interpretations.  Sort of like the Eskimos have a million different words for snow, my kids have a million different meanings to the words “I’m sorry.”

Don’t tell

I hear this one when there’s some kind of altercation going on, and someone “accidentally” hurts someone else.  While one kid is wailing like they lost an arm, another one is saying, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’M SORRY, I SAID I’M SORRY!”  As if the number of times it’s said as well as volume spoken has some sort of bearing on the sincerity of the apology.  What they mean, of course, is, “I said I was sorry, don’t tell on me!”

I’m not really sorry, I’m just saying it so Mom gets off my back

This one is usually following some sort of admonishment or scolding by me.  It’s most likely a brief “sorry,” and may or may not be accompanied by an eye roll or smirk, depending on the kid delivering it.  Sometimes I call them on it and make them apologize again like they mean it, but sometimes I let it go, because how sincere does an apology need to be when someone got their feelings hurt because you chose to watch Arthur when someone specifically requested My Little Ponies because Arthur hurts her feelings.

I’m sorry you caught me

Sometimes tricky to spot, this one seems pretty sincere on the surface.  It might be accompanied by tears, and it’s generally full of some sort of remorse.  However, you have to make sure they’re really sorry that they did something wrong and not just that you caught them at it.  I like to follow these apologies up with the always fun, “WHY are you sorry?” conversations.  Those usually segue nicely into the “What are you going to do next time?” discussions.

I know I should be sorry but I don’t really understand why

The other day we gave the kids a tray for their lunch with a variety of things on it for them to share.  We put enough on there for each girl to have some of everything, and made sure there was a balanced mix of protein, fruit, veggies, etc.  Later we found out that one of the girls didn’t get a boiled egg because the other two ate all of them.  Unfortunately, the one who didn’t eat the egg is the one who desperately needs more protein in her diet.  We had to reprimand them for not eating the proper amounts of foods, but I could tell they really had no idea what we were upset about.

This time I really am sorry

As a parent, this one is my favorite, because I can tell that the kid genuinely feels bad about what she did.   I can see she’s empathizing with the person who’s hurt, and has an understanding of her culpability in causing the pain.  This is what I like to call a parenting win. She didn’t learn that from My Little Ponies, after all.

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