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Saying You're Sorry

"I didn't do anything!" "It's not my fault!" "Say you're sorry!"

Sound familiar? If so, you're like lots of kids who sometimes argue with their friends and family members. Let's face it — it's not always easy to get along with sisters and brothers, parents, and friends. Kids aren't perfect and they sometimes do things that get them into trouble. Saying "I'm sorry" can help.

Saying you're sorry is called apologizing. When you apologize, you're telling someone that you're sorry for the hurt you caused, even if you didn't do it on purpose. People who are apologizing might also say that they will try to do better. They might promise to fix or replace what was broken or take back a mean thing they said.

How Does It Make You Feel?

When you apologize to someone — and really mean it — it's because you have stopped to think about how the person may have felt because of what you did or said. When you stop to think about the other person's feelings, you begin to feel sorry for your behavior. You might even feel embarrassed or ashamed if you did something that you knew was wrong.

Even if what happened was an accident or you did something you didn't mean to do, you would probably still feel sorry if you knew the other person's feelings were hurt. After apologizing, you might feel a little better (the other person probably will, too). When you apologize in a caring way, you can feel good because you are trying to make things right again.

What Does an Apology Sound Like?

There are many ways to apologize. Here are some examples:

"I'm sorry about the mean thing I said to you."

"I'm sorry I lost your book."

"I was mad, but I shouldn't have called you a name. I'm sorry."

"I'm sorry I hurt your feelings."

"I'm sorry I yelled at you."

"I'm really sorry I hit you when I was mad. That was wrong. I won't do it anymore."

When you apologize to someone, he or she might apologize back to you: "That's OK, I'm sorry, too. I shouldn't have teased you." And then maybe you can both feel friendly again.

When Should You Apologize?

Kids might need to apologize if they hurt or teased someone or lost something that belonged to someone else. They might need to apologize if they broke something (even by accident — oops!), or if they did something they knew was wrong — like telling a lie or breaking a rule on purpose. Maybe they did something their parent told them not to do, or maybe they didn't do something they were supposed to do.

Kids might need to apologize to each other or to a grown-up. Grown-ups can apologize, too — to other grown-ups or even to kids. After all, even grown-ups make mistakes sometimes. By apologizing when they're wrong, grown-ups can set a good example and show kids how to do the right thing and apologize when they need to.

What If You Were Angry?

Everyone feels angry with someone else now and then. Being angry is OK — and nothing to apologize for — but knowing how to tell someone what made you angry is important.

When little kids are angry, they might hit or kick or scream. They don't have much self-control and they might not have learned yet that it's wrong to hit someone because they're upset. But as kids get bigger and can use words, they know better than to hit or kick or scream when they're angry. They learn to express their feelings with words. Of course, the words they say when they're angry might be stronger or louder than usual — but the words don't have to be mean. You can tell someone you're upset and why without putting that person down. You can be honest about how you feel without being unkind.

But sometimes anger takes over and kids might lose self-control. They might say mean things, lose their cool, and hit or push someone. Afterward, most kids realize that even if they were right to be angry, it is not OK to behave that way. That's when an apology is definitely needed.

Does Apologizing Fix Everything?

Saying I'm sorry when you need to is the right thing to do. It does a lot of good. But by itself, it might not be enough to make everything all better again. Sometimes along with an apology, a person needs to fix the mistake or say they will try to do better. Sometimes doing a nice thing for the person after you apologize helps show that you really are sorry and want to be friendly again.

Sometimes a heartfelt "I'm sorry" fixes everything right away. Other times, it might take a while for someone to feel friendly after you apologize. You might need to give the other person some time. Even after you say you're sorry, you might still feel bad about what you said or did — but you can feel good about apologizing and about making up your mind to do better.

When someone apologizes to you, you might not feel like being friendly again right away. Once in a while, if a person doesn't change, you might not want to be friends anymore. You might feel relieved and glad that the other person apologized and admitted being wrong. But if someone keeps behaving in mean ways or does something that keeps hurting, you might not feel the same way anymore. Just because someone apologizes to you doesn't mean you have to be friendly again. That part is up to you.

Reviewed by: D'Arcy Lyness, PhD
Date reviewed: September 2009

Kids Health

Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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