Education & Family

Teaching kids the right way to say ‘I’m sorry’

McCarthy and her co-author, Marjorie Ingall, are additionally the pens behind SorryWatch, an internet site that analyzes apologies in the information, popular culture and historical past. SorryWatch is stuffed with examples of unhealthy apologies, corresponding to actors who tweet “I’m sorry if,” athletes who make excuses with their apologies, and companies that situation apology statements without ever naming what happened. Good apologies are uncommon, however they don’t have to be. “The nice thing about good apologies is that the form is actually really simple. It’s the doing it that is hard, not the steps themselves,” stated Ingall.

Like most onerous issues, apologizing is less complicated whenever you’ve had follow. In Freedman’s fifth grade class, she teaches seven steps to a significant apology. Her classes had been impressed by a sketchnote by educator Sylvia Duckworth, concepts about ‘brave spaces’ from educator Kenneth Shelton, and a podcast episode with psychologist Harriet Lerner and author Brené Brown.

Freedman teaches the classes throughout morning conferences, a interval when her class does community-building actions. She covers one step per day, and college students role-play with made-up eventualities, corresponding to tripping a classmate at recess or plagiarizing their homework.

For most college students, steps like saying why their conduct was unsuitable and asking “How can I make this better?” are new terrain. “Just getting them to talk and have a conversation about it and be in that driver’s seat to practice is huge because you can’t just teach them a step and then not actually have them practice it and use it,” Freedman stated.

In addition to role-playing, college students talk about why the steps matter, what unhealthy apologies sound like, and the way it feels to obtain good and unhealthy apologies. They additionally discuss the distinction between when they need to apologize and after they’re instructed to apologize. For Freedman, that’s vital as a result of there’s no level in apologizing in the event that they haven’t actually accepted duty. It’s additionally vital as a result of not each occasion somebody calls for or expects an apology from one other person is legitimate. Freedman can nonetheless keep in mind the injustice of being required to apologize for issues she didn’t do as a child or the place her emotions weren’t being heard.

“There are times where the adults do need to listen to kids and what they’re saying and what they’re feeling. And kids need to be empowered and know that they have a voice and be able to share that voice,” she stated.

McCarthy and Ingall stated that not listening to kids is certainly one of a number of widespread errors adults make when instructing (or telling) kids to say “I’m sorry.” Others embrace:

  • Not modeling good apologies. This can imply giving unhealthy apologies or simply doing their apologies in non-public the place kids don’t get to see and listen to them.
  • Scolding youngsters after they’ve apologized. This creates an affiliation in the youngster’s reminiscence between apologizing and being reprimanded, making them much less inclined to apologize in the future.
  • Requiring kids to kiss or hug after an apology. “Apologies are with words, not with touching,” stated Ingall.

Showing up with bravery

Throughout her classes, Freedman shares apology examples from her personal life. She stated that listening to her tales and every others’ experiences is validating for college kids. It additionally normalizes screwing up generally whereas building expertise to transfer ahead from these errors.

“I think the whole thing with going through this is [that] it’s humbling, right?” she stated. “It’s teaching people to accept responsibility for something they’ve done. And not everybody can do that.” After these classes, her fifth graders can. Freedman has seen college students put the steps into follow in her classroom and on the playground. She’s additionally heard about her college students instructing different kids or members of the family how to apologize higher.

Samantha Huffenus, mother to certainly one of Freedman’s current college students, stated she’d observed the distinction in her son. “Caleb has actually gotten much better about apologizing just in the very, very recent past,” she stated a couple of months after the classes. “He used to send text messages when he felt like he owed an apology to one of us, usually his dad or I. And the other day he came downstairs and he apologized [for something] and he accepted it.”

The face-to-face acknowledgement made the apology really feel extra real, Huffenus stated. For his half, Caleb stated that the steps he discovered at school really feel higher than a hasty, two-word apology. “I feel like the person appreciates it much more, that I actually care about saying sorry,” he stated.

There’s one step in the seven from Freedman’s classes that McCarthy and Ingall, the SorryWatch writers, disagree with. It’s asking forgiveness, which they pass over of their very own guidance for a good apology. “We think forgiveness is a gift to be granted. And it’s rude to ask for a gift,” Ingall defined. That distinction apart, the authors discover it encouraging to see lecturers bringing apologies classes into school rooms. “Apologies are an essential part of building the world we want to live in,” Ingall stated. “And I would hope that parents and teachers can work together on creating this kind of much more civilized, beautiful world.”

That sentiment echoes Freedman’s imaginative and prescient for her classroom. Her apologies classes are a part of a year-long effort to immediate college students to replicate on how they present up in class, at residence and of their group. She fashions displaying up in courageous and trustworthy methods by sharing her personal errors and apologizing to students when crucial. And she hopes the results of those classes will stick with it when college students depart her classroom.

“I feel that I am teaching kids life skills beyond how to solve a math problem or how to read and decode a text,” she stated. “Those are the things that – state standards, Common Core – that we have to teach. But I teach humans.”

Humans make errors. And to make issues higher, people apologize.

Episode Transcript


Kara Newhouse: Welcome to MindShift, the place we discover the way forward for studying and the way we elevate our kids. I’m Kara Newhouse.

Nimah Gobir: And I’m Nimah Gobir.

Kara Newhouse: Today we’re speaking about one thing that isn’t often in class curriculum: how to say “I’m sorry.”

Nimah Gobir: Students don’t get graded for it, however apologizing is a discovered ability. And it may be onerous.

Fonzie: Richie, I’m sincerely ssss … [Laughter]

Richie: Fonz, you don’t have to say ‘I’m sorry.’

Fonzie: Good. I received’t.

Kara Newhouse: That was Fonzie in the basic sitcom Happy Days. In the present, his incapacity to say “sorry” was a running joke. But it’s true that lots of people have bother saying these phrases.

Nimah Gobir: And that’s not the solely way to mess up an apology.

Kara Newhouse: We’ve all heard unhealthy apologies. Someone would possibly say they’re sorry however by no means say what for…

Justin Timberlake: What occurred was unintentional…

Nimah Gobir: They would possibly apologize for another person’s emotions, as a substitute of their very own actions.

Brittany Dawn Davis: I apologize to anybody who seems like they obtained scammed from me.

Kara Newhouse: They would possibly strive to justify their actions. Or soften their admission of duty by saying this isn’t actually who they’re.

Chris Brown: I’ve tried to stay my life in a way which might make these round me happy with me, and till not too long ago, I believe I used to be doing a fairly good job.

Nimah Gobir: Those clips had been from apologies by pop singer Justin Timberlake, fitness influencer Brittany Dawn and R&B singer Chris Brown. Kids hear unhealthy apologies on TV, in the information, and in their very own lives all the time. And they aren’t often taught how to do it higher.

Kara Newhouse: But there’s hope. In as we speak’s episode we’ll be taught the parts of apology, and we’ll meet a fifth grade instructor who’s serving to her college students be taught the right way to say “I’m sorry.” That’s all after the break.


Kara Newhouse: Psychologists and researchers have developed a wide range of fashions for the way to give apology.

Nimah Gobir: They all have a couple of issues in widespread.

Kara Newhouse: Acknowledging what occurred and the hurt it brought about. Actually saying “I’m sorry.” Offering a way to restore hurt. And committing to not repeat the conduct.

Nimah Gobir: Kara, we already heard some examples of what unhealthy apologies sound like. Let’s hear instance.

Kara Newhouse: I talked to Eva Lewis, who works in public engagement for state authorities. She instructed me about a reasonably large mistake she made as a senior in school. She was supposed to write an honors thesis analyzing international help to growing nations.

Eva Lewis: I assumed I had a useful resource that had the knowledge I wanted for these 40 nations. But then once I obtained into the knowledge, it didn’t. It solely had like 28 of the nations and there was lacking knowledge.

Kara Newhouse: She instructed her professor. The professor notified the tutorial dean that Eva was prone to not ending her thesis. Eva was … harassed.

Eva Lewis: So my sister gave me level. She’s like, ‘Hey, go talk to the academic dean, apologize and talk about how you’re going to rectify it.’ And me, I might have by no means considered this. So I made an appointment with the tutorial dean, and as quickly as I sat down together with her, I stated, ‘Hey, I just wanna apologize. Like, I didn’t do what I wanted to do. I ought to have checked out the knowledge earlier than – fully – earlier than saying I used to be going to do that and that, this and that.

Kara Newhouse: The dean was shocked. She’d heard loads of excuses from college students in her profession. But apologies? Not a lot.

Eva Lewis: And she simply stared at me. She was like. No one’s ever. No one’s ever performed that.

Kara Newhouse: Eva labored out a plan to slender the focus of her thesis and discover some extra knowledge.

Kara Newhouse: Did you graduate?

Eva Lewis: Yes, I did. With honors. [laughter]

Nimah Gobir: Kara, that does sound like a fairly good apology. She acknowledged what she’d performed unsuitable, really stated ‘I’m sorry,’ and made a plan to repair the drawback.

Kara Newhouse: The different factor I like about Eva’s story is that her sister steered she apologize AND gave her tips for the way to do it. Most of us don’t get fashions like that as kids and even as younger adults.

Susan McCarthy: I believe there are many individuals who simply consider apology as one thing that, that imply individuals pressure you to do. Now they’re a grown up. Nobody could make them apologize they usually’re not going to.

Kara Newhouse: That’s Susan McCarthy. She’s certainly one of the creators of SorryWatch, an internet site that analyzes apologies in the information, popular culture and historical past.

Susan McCarthy: We take them aside and we say, ‘This is good and here’s why. This is unhealthy and right here’s why.’ It seems that there’s a giant urge for food on the market for ‘Why did that apology not leave me feeling good?’

Kara Newhouse: Susan and her SorryWatch accomplice, Marjorie Ingall, additionally wrote a e-book. It’s referred to as Sorry, Sorry, Sorry: The Case for Good Apologies. In one chapter, Susan and Marjorie write about the issues grown-ups get unsuitable when coping with youngsters and apologies.

Nimah Gobir: Sometimes when a father or mother or a instructor simply needs kids to cease combating, they’ll inform everybody concerned to say “sorry” with out discovering out what actually occurred.

Kara Newhouse: It takes longer, however when adults make time and area to pay attention to youngsters who’re combating, the kids can really feel heard. That makes it extra probably that after they do say “I’m sorry,” they’ll imply it.

Nimah Gobir: Another factor that grown-ups usually do is lecture kids after they’ve already apologized.

Kara Newhouse: Susan in contrast this to a mistake new canine homeowners make. Imagine you’ve obtained an lively pet running round, and it doesn’t come whenever you name it. You name its identify a couple of instances, and when it lastly comes…you yell “bad dog!”

Susan McCarthy: You’re not rewarding the canine for coming. You’re punishing it for coming. So the subsequent time the canine goes, ‘ehh, she’s calling me, however she’s simply going to get mad at me, so I’ll simply keep out of arm’s attain.’

Nimah Gobir: So when an grownup scolds a toddler after they’ve apologized, it creates a link in the youngster’s mind between saying “sorry” and that destructive response.

Kara Newhouse: Marjorie, Susan’s co-author, steered a greater way to reply.

Marjorie Ingall: When a child apologizes to you, regardless that you’re indignant for the factor that the child is apologizing for, you realize, I believe we have now to take a step again and have the first response be, ‘Thank you for apologizing. I know that was difficult. Where do you think we go from here?’


Nimah Gobir: Kara, every thing we’ve talked about to date is about how to reply after an issue happens. What can we do to proactively train kids about apologies earlier than they want to give one?

Kara Newhouse: Nimah, we don’t often give it some thought this way, however studying social-emotional expertise is like enjoying a sport or an instrument. You want to be taught some fundamentals and follow in a supportive setting earlier than you may apply it when the stakes are greater.

I met a fifth grade instructor who’s creating that form of studying area for her college students. Because it’s onerous to train this form of lesson in the warmth of the second.

Rayna Freedman: I hear lots of “I’m sorry.” And then they transfer on. But the different person’s nonetheless sitting there like, “What is happening?”

Kara Newhouse: Dr. Rayna Freedman teaches at Jordan Jackson Elementary School in Mansfield, Massachusetts. Since fifth grade is the remaining yr earlier than center faculty, it’s her job to put together college students for that. She sees this purpose as extra than simply tutorial.

Rayna Freedman: I really feel that I’m instructing kids life expertise past how to resolve a math drawback or how to learn and decode a textual content. Those are the issues that state requirements, right, Common Core, that we have now to train. But I train people.

Kara Newhouse: One of the methods this concept of “teaching humans” comes into play is throughout morning conferences. That’s when the class does actions that Dr. Freedman designed to assist her fifth graders determine who they need to be in the world.

Rayna Freedman: We do lots of speaking about what a courageous area is. We learn this poem from Facing History & Ourselves that talks about how there’s no such factor as a protected area, that there’s solely courageous areas, and standing up and being trustworthy and reflective in these areas.

Kara Newhouse: Dr. Freedman’s college students discover subjects like kindness and group. They share their passions and their desires. And for 2 weeks in January, they learn the way to say “I’m sorry” in a significant way.

Rayna Freedman: We actually start off with discussing like whenever you’re instructed to apologize after which whenever you need to apologize, that are two various things which might be – the kids are stunned once we start.

Kara Newhouse: Dr. Freedman makes use of a seven step mannequin for apologies. One of her college students, Caleb Huffenus, obtained so much out of the classes, so he’ll assist share the steps.


Rayna Freedman: We start off with saying what you’re sorry for.

Caleb Huffenus: “I’m sorry for…”

Rayna Freedman: Before shifting on to step two, which is saying why it was unsuitable.

Caleb Huffenus: It was unsuitable as a result of…

Rayna Freedman: Then we go on to the third step, which is accepting full duty. 

Caleb Huffenus: I settle for full duty for what I did/stated.

Rayna Freedman: And then asking how to make amends is step 4, which will get into having a dialog with the person, since you acknowledge that that different person’s harm.

Caleb Huffenus: How can I make this higher?

Rayna Freedman: The fifth step is committing to not doing it once more.

Caleb Huffenus: Moving ahead, I promise to…

Rayna Freedman: The sixth step is asking for forgiveness.

Caleb Huffenus: Will you settle for my apology?

Rayna Freedman: The seventh step is to thank the person they’re speaking to about validating the different person for bringing no matter it was to their attention.

Caleb Huffenus: Thank you for bringing this to my attention.

Kara Newhouse: The college students role-play every step with eventualities, like tripping a classmate at recess or plagiarizing their homework.

Rayna Freedman: Just getting them to speak and have a dialog about it’s enormous.

Kara Newhouse: Dr. Freedman teaches one step per day. After all the role-playing, the class spends a couple of days discussing good and unhealthy apologies.

Rayna Freedman: A variety of them had no concept there was extra to it than “I’m sorry.” In truth, all of them. And then once we obtained into what’s not an apology, you hear the snickers as a result of you realize that that’s what they’ve been doing.

Kara Newhouse: The college students additionally write down a few of their reflections. Here’s what certainly one of them wrote.

Child actor [Nico Yuen]: Sometimes I really feel beneath pressure as a result of I did one thing and I don’t need to settle for full duty. I strive to do it, however I don’t have the guts to do it generally. But any more, I’m going to settle for duty.

Rayna Freedman: And that’s out of the mouth of a fifth grader.

Kara Newhouse: When I talked to Caleb, who gave us the apology steps earlier, he stated that earlier than these classes he’d by no means performed most of the steps. Like quantity 5, promising not to repeat the mistake. Now, he thinks that’s vital.

Caleb Huffenus: Because in the event you don’t commit to not doing this once more, they could suppose that you’d try this once more to them and won’t keep buddies with you.

Kara Newhouse: Caleb observed that when classmates used these steps, their apologies felt extra honest. It made a distinction when he apologized to others, too.

Caleb Huffenus: I really feel like the person appreciates it rather more that I really care about saying sorry. And not simply saying sorry and being over with it.

Kara Newhouse: Caleb’s mother, Samantha Huffenus, observed a distinction in her fifth grader, too.

Samantha Huffenus: Caleb has really gotten significantly better about apologizing. Just in the very, very current previous. I’ve observed a extremely massive change. He used to ship textual content messages when he felt like he owed an apology to certainly one of us, often his dad or I. And the different day he got here downstairs and he apologized and he, he accepted it.

Samantha Huffenus: It actually made an enormous distinction as a result of earlier than it form of simply appeared like he did it as a result of he felt like he ought to say one thing, both as a result of he was in bother and and knew he ought to apologize or no matter the case could also be. But coming down and really, you realize, doing a few of these steps that he discovered actually made a distinction to me, receiving the apology and making it appear much more real.

Nimah Gobir: So Kara, Caleb was in a position to do one thing lots of adults don’t do – apologize face to face.


Kara Newhouse: He’s not the just one. In the three years she’s taught these classes, Dr. Freedman has heard from different dad and mom who observed their youngsters utilizing these steps with their siblings. She’s additionally heard from different lecturers about her college students apologizing to kids at recess. 

Nimah Gobir: Often when kids harm somebody or break a rule, they get caught up in the worry and disgrace that comes from figuring out they did one thing unsuitable. They’re considering “Am I going to get in trouble?” … And, “How can I avoid getting in trouble?” 

Kara Newhouse: Learning how to apologize offers them a special path ahead.

Rayna Freedman: And so these kind of classes actually construct empathy in kids as a result of now they’re in a position to clearly perceive that regardless that I don’t, I won’t understand I did one thing unsuitable, I nonetheless harm this different human being one way or the other.

Kara Newhouse: Dr. Freedman has even heard about her college students utilizing what they discovered to advocate for themselves after they’re being handled unfairly.

Rayna Freedman: I’ve heard it from households earlier than the place at the dinner desk, the youngster is instructing them, ‘No, you don’t apologize like that.’ Like ‘That’s too rushed. You’re not listening to me and my emotions.’

Kara Newhouse: Good apologies require empathy, perspective-taking, honesty and braveness – all issues that faculties and fogeys strive to domesticate in youngsters.

Dr. Freedman stated that instructing these classes has made her extra intentional about her personal apologies. She stopped saying sorry for issues simply because somebody instructed her to, and he or she’s acutely aware of modeling true apologies to her college students.

Rayna Freedman: I’ve had to do some massive apologies. Right? Like issues even to kids. Like, ‘I did not know that this could have been taken this way. And let’s discuss what meaning and the way it makes you’re feeling. And, you realize, I’m going to settle for duty and I’m not going to use these phrases anymore.’

Kara Newhouse: Dr. Freedman created the apologies classes in 2020, after going by means of a number of years of variety, fairness and inclusion training. That work helped her replicate on issues she had stated or performed in the previous that had been hurtful or offensive, even when she didn’t comprehend it at the time.

Rayna Freedman: If we might all apologize once we say issues like that to people who find themselves completely different than us, no matter if it’s faith, political, intercourse, gender, no matter it’s, we’d most likely be in a greater place. And that’s being in the courageous area, right?

Kara Newhouse: When grown-ups mannequin humility and provides kids instruments to put apologies into motion, they might help younger individuals be in the courageous area at college, at residence, and as they develop into the future.


Kara Newhouse: Thank you to Rayna Freedman, Caleb and Samantha Huffenus, Susan McCarthy, Marjorie Ingall, and Eva Lewis. Thanks additionally to Nico Yuen for studying the pupil reflection. The MindShift workforce consists of Nimah Gobir, Ki Sung, Marlena Jackson-Retondo, and me, Kara Newhouse.

Our editor is Chris Hambrick. Chris Hoff engineered this episode. Jen Chien is KQED’s director of podcasts. Katie Sprenger is Podcast Operations Manager. Audience Engagement Support from Cesar Saldaña. Holly Kernan is KQED’s Chief Content Officer.

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