Child holding up a sign reading 'sorry'

Saying sorry: when it’s not ok

I enjoy saying sorry. I’m British; it’s as natural as breathing.

‘Enjoy’ might even be wrong; it’s more a phobia of not letting people know that, just generally, I’m sorry. (I feel it’s a bit racist to claim this is a British thing, but it does seem that many other nationalities don’t have that pressing need to apologise.)

In my day to day life, I find myself apologising for:

  • Paying for something in a shop
  • Crossing the road
  • Needing to go to the toilet

But as a parent, I also need to teach my daughter to apologise where there is genuine need. I have to teach her when to say sorry, along with please and thank you.

However, what doesn’t seem to be covered in the Saying Sorry Counting Book and Minding Your Manners with Marjorie and such is what you say in response to ‘sorry’.

Distinguishing types of apology

Now, in the examples above, The British Sorry, the correct response is ‘Sorry’, ‘No sorry’, ‘I’m sorry’. Repeat until everyone’s clear that everyone wishes they weren’t there to begin with.

But for genuine apologies, the general accepted response is ‘That’s ok’.

And sometimes, it’s not.

That’s not to say that apologies shouldn’t be listened to or accepted, but neither should they be rejected. If someone apologises for spilling tea on my living room rug, I can genuinely reply ‘That’s ok’. Don’t worry about it; it’s a patterned rug that has seen many a spill. Do it again tomorrow and I couldn’t care less. That’s what cleaning cloths (ok, corners of old leggings that I took off last night and are still under the chair) are for.

But when my kid understands that she shouldn’t have bitten my face, or run off into traffic, and says sorry, I can’t reconcile ‘That’s ok’ as an acceptable response. ‘That’s ok’ suggests ‘You didn’t need to apologise’.

Thank you

So what we now say in response to a genuine sorry is ‘thank you’. ‘Thank you for saying sorry.’ I often give her a hug at the same time, reinforcing the message that it’s good to say sorry, and we’re all friends now.

Like so many parenting moments, it’s really helped in the childfree areas of my life too. Thanking someone for saying sorry when they have hurt you, physically or emotionally, feels good – and on the receiving end, it’s so much nicer to have an apology accepted, rather than dismissed.

Thank you for reading.

Image via Maroonsurreal on Flickr

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