I’m Sorry vs. Please Forgive Me: Helping Kids Apologize

Learn two great phrases to help kids apologize and distinguish between intentional harm and accidents. Why kids should apologize even for accidents.

Mother consoling her sad daughter as they sit on a bed

It isn’t easy to apologize. It takes a lot of humility to admit you made a mistake.

This is true even if your mistake was a complete accident.

At our house, we require apologies even when the action was an accident.

Read: Why We Require Apologies Even for Accidents

A great way to help a child apologize for something even if the harm was unintentional is to distinguish it by using “I’m Sorry” in certain situations and “Please Forgive Me” in other situations.

Why You Should Teach Your Child To Apologize

On Becoming Preschoolwise talks about the importance of teaching your child to apologize when he has done something wrong. This does several things:

  • Helps him learn to accept responsibility for actions
  • Helps him admit when he is wrong

Can you see the value in this? Do you know people who don’t accept responsibility for their actions? My guess is you do. I think this is a very common problem in our modern day.

There really are many people walking around the world who don’t think anything is their responsibility.

There are also many people who don’t want to admit when they have done something wrong. We justify and justify our actions with a list of reasons why it was okay that we did what we did.

As Preschoolwise points out, “Relationships work best when there is no unresolved conflict simmering within them” (page 162).

“Relationships work best when there is no unresolved conflict simmering within them”

On Becoming Preschoolwise page 162

Teaching your child to apologize will set your child up for healthy relationships in life. This teaches your child humility. People who ask for forgiveness “…show that they believe the relationship is worth the possible embarrassment often associated with admitting wrong” (page 162).

Apologies When Harm was Unintentional

What about when the infraction was an accident? What if you didn’t mean to hurt someone? Do you still need to apologize?


You still caused harm in some way, and whether you intended to or not, you did it.

It is like if you hit another car with your car. You can’t just say, “Oopps. I didn’t mean to do that” and have the police officer say, “Oh, in that case, no ticket” and the person you hit say, “Okay, then I will pay for the damage.”

I didn’t mean to so I am not responsible is not a reality in the world.

I'm Sorry vs. Forgive Me pinnable image

I’m Sorry vs. Forgive Me

This is where “I’m Sorry” vs. “Forgive Me” comes into play.

Apologizing for Accidents

“I’m Sorry” is for when your child does something wrong but unintentionally.

This happens all the time. Children are clumsy. Children don’t have great foresight. They also don’t have a lot of experience. They make a lot of unintentional mistakes.

One example is when two children are running around playing with each other. There is a good chance one of them is going to hurt the other somehow.

This is an appropriate time to say, “I am sorry I ran into you and hurt you.”

Apologizing for Intentional Actions

There will also be times your child does something intentionally. She might get mad and hit her brother.

This is when she says, “I am sorry I hit you. Will you please forgive me?”

Notice the pattern here. The person apologizes, names the infraction, and then asks for forgiveness.

This is the distinction. For an accident, you still apologize, but you do not go so far as to ask for forgiveness.

Distinguishing between these two scenarios is very valuable.

Even as a young four year old, Brayden would say, “But I didn’t mean to!” To this, I replied that I knew he hadn’t done it on purpose, but he had still done it and we need to apologize when we do something wrong.

When the infraction was intentional, asking forgiveness helps both parties. It creates a situation where the offender is at the mercy of the other person.

It puts the offendee in a position to offer mercy and forgive. Saying, “yes, I forgive you” means you cannot harbor anger over the situation.

Some children are very quick to apologize, while others have a hard time admitting fault. Admitting fault is an important life skill, and the practice of apologizing for mistakes, intentional or not, helps children learn this important trait. It will serve them well in a marriage, as a parent, as an employee, and as a friend.


You will be surprised at how much you will use this now that you know about it. You will also be surprised at how well your little preschooler can pick up on the subtleties of the language used here.

You will be teaching him to admit when he is wrong and to work to correct his wrong actions.

I am married to a man who is amazingly great at this. He is very humble and always apologetic. I can tell you that it is a great trait for a marriage relationship! What a great gift to give your child.


This post originally appeared on this blog in February 2010

14 thoughts on “I’m Sorry vs. Please Forgive Me: Helping Kids Apologize”

  1. Thanks for this post I wanted to share some of my experiances with this lately.I grew up in a house where my mother made us appoligize hug and quickly move on from any issus or disagreements. And I can say it works well. I never had harbored anger twords my brother and we are good friends to this day. I recently watched two brother overnight at my house who do not have these guidelines in thier home and it was amazing how they acted towrds eachother. One of them had to have a time out for a very small wrongdoing against his brother. The other brother held it over his head the entire time they were here that he was better because he did not have to have a timeout. I politly reminded him that we forgive and forget and asked him to not bring it up again. But he was stuck on the idea that he was supperior (for the moment) because he had not been in trouble. Humility is huge and I agree that we only need it more as we get older. 🙂

  2. My almost 3 year old is great at this…he even apologizes now without prompting. He bumped into me the other day and said, "Oh, sorry mommy. I didn't mean to do that." The problem I have is when he apologizes to a friend and the parents have not taught this concept. He cannot understand why the other child will not say, "I forgive you". Any thoughts?

  3. I should have known this was in the "wise" series… I'm so glad my parents taught me this concept – the words matter! It does wonders for my marriage and we will teach our daughter when she's older. Often when I ask for forgiveness my husband says, "I will always forgive you."…to which I say, but I still have to ask. It is very humbling!

  4. I learned from a friend to have my kids say, "I'm sorry" and the other child says, "I forgive you." I never thought about having them ASK for forgiveness. This is actually difficult when you're in a home with kids who don't do this. My children have said, "I'm sorry," to kids who don't even acknowledge what they are saying. That's tough…most of the time they keep saying, "I'm sorry," until they respond. Sometimes I have to prompt the other child to at least say, "Ok." I wish all parents taught this to their children.

  5. Teaching them and helping them to distinguish what is I am sorry and Please forgive me is one good thing, why? It is where you are starting to yield a good values to your child and helping him to make a difference and teach other kids to know what is what and which is which.baby gifts

  6. I'm a member of the Yahoo group as well, and I just posted a question about how my son is constantly hitting, pushing, and yelling at his sister, so this post is right up my alley. What a perfect concept to start working on with my son. Perhaps the idea that it's not just about "sorry" will help him understand the consequences of his actions. Thank you!

  7. David and Melody,Situations like this are going to be common for the rest of his life. I still remember things roommates did in college that made me think, "Really? Didn't your mom teach you not to act like that? Mine did!" He will likely be around lots of kids who are taught at a lower standard from yours.So, I would just explain to him that not all children are taught the same way. Explain that we do the right thing no matter what others around us are doing. It will take him some time before he really gets that, but it is a great stepping stone and a great lesson for him to learn to do what he knows is right no matter who is or isn't around.Empathise wtih him (I know you want him to say I forgive you…) and explain (but he might not have been taught to say that). You could also teach him to say, "Do you forgive me?" That is a direct question, and most kids that age would probably answer.

  8. Thank you! I appreciate your advice. You should get paid for this site! Well, I guess you will one day…in jewels for your crown! :)I appreciate your time!Melody(Oh…and I just started teaching him 'will you forgive me?' after he says he is sorry to us during our discipline times. He's picked it up and hopefully, will do the same at a friend's house. Thanks, again!)


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