A New (Old) Way to Apologize

Last May, this post got well-deserved attention among my mom friends: A better way to say sorry. The author is a teacher who realized that when kids hurt each other, it didn't exactly instill true repentance or healing when she forced them to apologize. But what choice did she have? You can't just let bad behavior go.

So she came up with this alternative formulation, and made erring kids go through it step by step, every time:

I’m sorry for…
This is wrong because…
In the future, I will…
Will you forgive me?

She says that the kids really took to it, and even the one kid that nobody liked jumped at the chance to acknowledge that he was annoying everyone.

 He apologized to the whole class for being really, really annoying and stated his plans to change. I was among the many individuals exchanging puzzled but impressed glances, and indeed it was one big step in this child’s personal growth. It was especially heartwarming to see how his classmates interacted with him afterward. They really wanted to give him a second chance, and they sincerely tried to help him be his best. I’m sure it wasn’t easy for him to admit to the class that he was annoying, but it was a powerful first step in changing his relationships with everyone. While not perfect, his behavior improved greatly after this event and I am glad I gave him the tools and space to “reset” this way.

The teacher started scheduling weekly "clean-ups." 

Students relished in the opportunity to admit wrongdoing, share intent to change, and restore friendships. It was a beautiful, beautiful thing. They walked out stiff and uneasy, and returned with bright smiles on their faces.

She says that one day, she spontaneously demanded an apology from a kid for a mild infraction: not paying attention.

“Um…” he began, looking around bewildered, “I’m sorry for… not paying attention. This is wrong because… I wasn’t paying attention…”

“Try again.”

“…because you’re upset?” he offered.


“…because I’m not learning?” he asked.

“Yes, and?”

“And because…” he glanced down nervously.

“Because,” I finished for him, “Now the whole class is waiting for you and you’re wasting our time.”

“Because the whole class–”

“Start from the beginning.”

Yeah, I can be pretty tough on them sometimes. Tough love.

He started again, “I’m sorry for not paying attention. This is wrong because I’m not learning and the whole class is waiting and I’m wasting their time. In the future, I will pay attention. Will you forgive me?”

“Yes,” I said, then turned to the others, “Class?”

The students nodded their heads and we resumed our lesson. 

Catholics, o Catholics, does this sound familiar?

Bless me, Father, for I have sinned ...
I’m sorry for…

This is wrong because…
I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of Hell, but most of all because they offend Thee, my God ...

In the future, I will…
I firmly resolve, with the help of thy grace...

Will you forgive me?
Will you forgive me?

Oh, you progressive Catholic Church! Always ahead of the curve with your understanding of human psychology.  What a difference it makes to say it out loud, acknowledge why it was wrong and how it hurt you and otheres, to make a plan to change, and to ask for forgiveness. And of course we have a bonus that extends far (eternally!) beyond psychological benefits.  Now we just need to start scheduling weekly "clean-ups" -- yes, even for minor infractions, because they hurt the whole clalss, too --  and we'll begin to see some real change on the playground.