Why I don’t make my children say “I’m sorry”

This week we continue our Practical Parenting series with a thoughtful post from my friend Christy. She has some great thoughts in this post and I’d love to hear what you think as well.  Let’s discuss in the comments, shall we?


“Now say you’re sorry…”

A stiff, tiny figure robotically and begrudgingly forces the words “I’m sorry” through her pursed lips.
“There. I said it. Can I go play now?”

It’s tough to mix and mingle with other kids, especially when our kid plays the role of neighborhood bully and does the most embarrassing thing ever to someone else’s child. Though well intended, when we make them go through the motions and say words they don’t mean, we miss what matters most—the heart.

A question I had to ask myself whenever I have told my children to say “I’m sorry” (yes, I’ve done it) is this: “What would Jesus do?”

Not to sound trite, but it is true. I had to consider what God would want in this situation. After searching it out scripturally, I concluded that I can’t make my children say “I’m sorry”—no matter how sorry they should be, or how sorry I might be…

Why I don't make my kids say "I'm sorry" and what we do instead

Check this out from Ephesians 6:5-6:  “Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart…(ESV)

In Ephesians 5, Paul discusses how we can be “imitators of Christ” in our relationships. Continuing in chapter 6, right after the classic “Children obey your parents” verse, he addresses the servant/master relationship. The spirit of these words spoken to the servant relates to a child’s obedience to his parents to obey “as you would Christ.”

I want my children to obey me. But I want them to obey God all the more. And I don’t want to produce little “people pleasers” who “do” obedience that doesn’t come from the heart.
Does true, heart-led obedience take time to develop? Of course. (Ask me. God’s still at work on MY heart…)

Coercing my children to say words that are not true to save my own embarrassment won’t nurture heart-led obedience no matter how much I wish it was the reality of their hearts and minds.

Jesus rejects lip service. Saying “I’m sorry” when we aren’t is just that. Lip service. God is concerned with our hearts. And as parents, we are shepherds of our children’s hearts, but ultimately we don’t change them. Only God can do that.

Here are some tips for how to shepherd our kids to pursue reconciliation even before they understand their own need for it:

1. Point out the offense in light of truth

Our go to verses for most anything they do wrong is this passage from Ephesians 4:31-32:
“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

Our high view of self produces a sense of entitlement-especially as young kids. Think about it-they have been served their whole lives and they have come to expect it. The moment they aren’t being served, they do whatever it takes to turn the tide to their own favor. These verses are a clear cut reminder taking us straight to gospel centered thinking on how to treat others—just as Christ treated us.

2. Do make them say “I was wrong.”

Most kids won’t deny that whatever ugly thing they did was wrong. I also try to provide a reverse perspective by asking if they want someone to do the same to them. I instruct my children to say “I was wrong for __________.” Saying the offense aloud and proclaiming the error of it causes them to “own it.” That is a good thing.

3. Pray…A LOT.

Our littles need a work of God to take place in their own hearts and lives as much as we do. Bring them frequently before the throne of grace—because the guaranteed help and grace we need is there to be found if we simply ask!

4. You, as the parent, say “I’m sorry.”

So, maybe they really aren’t sorry yet. (I mean, have WE always been sorry??) One time my five year old asked me, “Don’t I have to say I’m sorry?” I replied to her, “No honey. Not unless you ARE sorry. And if you’re not, I hope you will be sorry for your sin real soon.”

You can express your own regret for how your child behaved. You never know, it could flower into a gospel opportunity!

Ultimately, we parents just want our children to have hearts that seek God, though they fall into sin along the way. But no amount of forcible repentance will result in true repentance. May God’s Spirit do a saving work in our children. May He write His law on their hearts at an early age that they will be truly sorry for their sin before Him.

Why I don't make my kids say "I'm sorry" and what we do instead



Christy Pearce is a wife, stay at home Mommy of 3, writer and speaker. Her passion is to proclaim God’s truth and make Jesus known! You can connect with her at her blog, Faith Like Dirty Diapers…because God speaks in everything, even a diaper change.

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  1. Yeah, the best way to teach your child is by your own example. If you use words like ‘thank you’ and ‘I am sorry’, the child will pick up. But, yes, they also pick up whether you mean what you say. Thanks for this thought-provoking post. Blessings!

  2. Good article–love the scriptures & applications–wish I had known about this when I was raising my 4 children! THANKS for sharing!

  3. Yup, I totally agree! Kids, as with adults, need to understand what they did wrong and why it was wrong and then apologize sincerely and specifically. The heart has to feel remorse, a blanket apology ‘just because’ isn’t the same.
    And, as parents, we need to be at ease with apologizing to our kids – or whomever, being the model of what that is supposed to look like.

  4. I really love this! I do something very similar with my kids. Great points! We as parents are teaching our children about God and their relationship with Him and I try to always ask myself how what I’m doing affects how they see God. It’s really changed my parenting in a positive way!

  5. This is a beautiful way to lead our kids to the gospel and to model a repentant heart. And this is the sticking point: “May God’s Spirit do a saving work in our children.” Amen! Great words, here.

  6. What an interesting post!

    I like how you have taken what can be a really strained situation with kids (especially when someone else’s children are involved) and turned it into a more genuine and positive experience.

    Forcing kids to say they are “sorry” when they are not or really don’t understand is a waste of time.

    Pinned you to this link: https://www.pinterest.com/melredd/blog-link-parties-and-blog-link-ups/

    Thanks for sharing such a thoughtful word~
    (Found your post on Grace & Truth today)~

  7. This is why I have always have a bad feeling by forcing them to say “I’m sorry.” Light bulb! I am geared up for the next go-around! << Never thhought I'd say that either!

    Thank you, Christy for this wonderful post & Arabah for sharing it here.

  8. Thanks for this excellent reminder! It’s something I struggled with as a child, but as a parent I kind of forgot. :) We’ve been learning this past year how to deal with root issues rather than fruit issues, so this advice goes right along with that! Thanks for sharing at Grace and Truth.
    Jen :)

  9. I do make my children say “I am sorry” and here is why. I live with a man that never had to say it. He is the most loving and tender man , but he almost can NOT make himself say those three little words. No matter how sorry and contrite he may feel, he can’t say “I am sorry”. After my children say “I am sorry” then we do go and deal with the heart. I do not make them say sorry just so I look good to other parents, but for my child’s sake, so as they get older it will be easier to say. Also I am a firm believer in that we can not follow our hearts, we need to lead our hearts. By saying I am sorry, I am starting to lead my heart in the way that it should go. I would love to hear some discussion on this point of view. :)

    1. I very much agree! I always make my children say sorry to lead them in the direction of understanding their behavior impacted someone negatively!
      Saying sorry is very humbling and we need more children being raised to know self-humility rather than the self-centered culture that seems to exist today!

  10. I can understand where you are coming from with this. But what about helping children to understand manners, and etiquette and social skills? If you don’t say sorry because you don’t mean it, in some cases this will be disastrous for relationships and social interaction. Our culture expects apologies in many situations, and in some cases the recipient of the apology expects to hear a sincere sounding one even if they know you may not mean it. They could find it very strange manners to not receive one. In these cases I think I would want my child to apologise for etiquette’s sake and then would follow up with them privately to get to the heart. Surely it’s an important part of teaching our children the social skills they need in the context of our culture.

  11. I like the idea of saying, “I was wrong”. However, I frequently say, “I’m sorry,” both to my children and in front of my children. I have taught my children to say that they are sorry (regretful) in an acceptable manner as a step toward reconciliation, and I have also taught them to accept apologies by offering forgiveness (which is also sometimes a struggle of the heart), and to confess our wrongdoing to God and receive His cleansing forgiveness. This is all a process involving examination of heart and Scripture, heart talk, prayer, and encouragement. My oldest is now 9 and I am glad that they are willing to ask for and not withhold forgiveness from others and from the Lord. It is not forced, but it is necessary, and we have had to take the time needed to work through these things. I also taught my children to say, “Thank you,” where appropriate to do so, from the time that they could speak (maybe before). Even when they are not truly grateful in their hearts, they should still express gratitude for the kindness offered to them. We play with a child we love very much who never says, “I’m sorry,” and not only is this hurtful to my children, but I wonder when this child will learn to seek forgiveness and reconciliation if not taught to do so. This parenting thing is hard, and I find myself learning so much as I seek to understand and teach my children. I’d also really like to hear more thoughts on this discussion!

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful response! I do see value in what you are saying and think manners are definitely needed. Of course no post can cover all elements and arguments, so this one focused on the heart and why we need to go deeper with our kids than telling them to recite mere words. Thanks for stopping by!

  12. This is probably by far the best article I’ve read concerning a child and their behavior. Thank you!
    I wished there was a whatsapp link

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