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Three ways to help your kids say sorry and mean it

Dai Hankey | September 13th 2016

“I’m sorry!”

These are two little words that have left my lips more times than I care to think during the course of my (oft rebellious) lifetime. And now as father of four little‘uns, they are two little words that reverberate around our home on an almost daily basis! However, as this one-time rebel and now father of rebels will readily testify—there is a world of difference between saying those words and meaning those words.

Indeed, just as my youngest son, Ezra, thinks that saying grace before a meal is actually just the secret password that means he can get stuck into his food, likewise “I’m sorry” is seen as little more than a special code that means “Now you have to stop telling me off!”

And I wonder if as a parent I am somehow complicit in that. After all, how many times have I told my kids to “say sorry” when they’ve done something wrong? LOADS!

Now don’t get me wrong—that’s not a bad thing in and of itself… but what if they’re not sorry? What if there is absolutely no shred of guilt, remorse or regret for what they’ve just done? Essentially I am simply getting them to draw a line under the unfortunate episode by telling a bare-faced lie! In fact—cards on the table here—as a dad I so often settle for “behaviour modification” (they said sorry—now let’s move on) instead of going for ‘heart transformation' (I have helped them to see their sin and how it has affected someone else and now they truly are sorry). Because, frankly it’s a quicker, easier and less costly!

Any parents out there with me on this?

Worldly sorrow v godly sorrow

I love that Paul addresses these two different kinds of “I’m sorry” in the Bible:

“For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in spiritual death.” (2 Corinthians 7 v 10 NLT)

Paul is clear—there is a shallow, worldly sorrow that comes out of a hard heart and leads to death. This is in stark contrast to pure, godly sorrow that flows from a transformed heart and leads away from sin and death. As a parent my job, indeed my desire, must surely be to steer my children away from worldly sorrow which is superficial and ultimately powerless, and to seek instead to passionately, persistently point them towards the only power that can transform their hearts and bring about true, godly sorrow—the grace of God that is found only in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

This is obviously far easier said than done. However, here are three things that I think could be helpful.

1. Don’t just teach it – model it

As parents this is SO crucial! The whole “do as I say and not as I do” approach to parenting is obviously hypocritical and our kids see through it like a greenhouse. I am convinced that there is no better way to teach our kids how to truly repent than being truly repentant ourselves. After all, we are sinners too, and we are just as capable of letting them down as they are of us. Some of the most powerful moments in our young family have arisen from either myself or my wife (sometimes both of us) saying sorry for things that we have done or said in a moment of anger, selfishness or pride. And while I probably haven't done this as often as I should have, I am far more likely to model this kind of genuine repentance when I have been gripped and humbled by the gospel of grace myself! In other words—the more time we spend with Jesus, the more our lives will show it and the more others will see it—starting with our kids!

The more time we spend with Jesus, the more others will see it—starting with our kids!

2. Don’t just demand it – explain it

It’s right to expect our children to “say sorry”—but we need to make sure we’re regularly making time to explain why, and to talk about it at a heart level. Best to wait until you’ve both calmed down—as the parent, we need to be able to speak gently and graciously. What this heart-chat looks like will depend on how old the child is and what has happened. But here are some helpful things to try:

  • Help them express their remorse with an open question like “How are you feeling about what just happened?”
  • Help them feel empathy for the person they’ve hurt. “How do you think your sister is feeling?”
  • Explain that their love and relationship with the person they’ve hurt is more important than the reason they were fighting.
  • Explain how their behaviour not only hurts others but also is disobedient towards God. Encourage them to say sorry to him.

3. When you see it – celebrate it.

Thirdly, we live in such a grace-starved world that when we see evidences of it, not least in the lives of our kids, we should celebrate it! That’s not to say that we should encourage our kids to say sorry just in order to get goodies. But when we see them own their sin, turn from their sin and show contrition and a softening heart, we should point them to the hand of God at work in their lives, and help them understand that true repentance leads to life and peace and blessing and joy. This looks like celebration and could be as simple as an affirming word or a pat on the back. However, maybe even some kind of reward could be really powerful, not least if shared with a sibling or friend with whom they have fallen out and reconciled again, as this completes the gospel picture.

May both we and our children learn to say sorry and enjoy the grace of God together!



Dai’s brand new children’s book is all about saying sorry—and teaches children that God’s grace is EPIC! Watch Dai read the story in this video:

Dai blogs regularly at

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Dai Hankey

Dai Hankey is a church-planting Pastor in the Welsh Valleys where he lives with his wife, Michelle and four young children. Dai is a former skate-boarder and loves to DJ. He is the author of The Hard Corps, A Man's Greatest Challenge and the Eric says… series.

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