Pour Your Heart Out: When Sorry Isn’t Enough

I'm sorry Cub(3), bumped into Monkey(6) as they were headed into the kitchen for breakfast yesterday. He said “Sorry, my guy.”

Instead of saying “It’s okay,” Monkey responded with “I accept your apology.”

Shortly after breakfast, Bear(5) decided that it was time for a showdown, their term for wrestling. He ended up making Monkey cry.
Bear did say he was sorry.

But, Monkey replied with “I DON’T accept your apology. Now you have to do something to make me feel better.”

I was taken aback and then I remembered what his kindergarten teacher had taught his class last year.

When someone does something to another kindergartener, they have to say “I’m sorry.”

But, the response is NOT to be “That’s okay.”

Instead, they choose to say “I accept your apology” or “I don’t accept your apology.”

Sometimes it’s something simple: apology accepted. And other times, well, a simple “I’m sorry” doesn’t cut it.

And so the offender needs to do something to make up for it until the one who was hurt by them can say that they accept the apology.

A kindergarten lesson. But, it really hit me.

How many times has someone hurt me and they think that saying “I’m sorry” makes it all okay? They say “I’m sorry” and I feel like I have to reply “That’s okay” even when it’s NOT okay.

And how many times have I hurt someone and yet just said “I’m sorry” and moved along like that was enough?

Unintential slights, a misunderstanding, an accident: sorry should be enough.

But, having the ability to say “I’m sorry” doesn’t make it okay to truly hurt someone. Sometimes sorry isn’t enough.

Kindergarteners know this.

I’m going to learn from them.


Click if you want to find out more about Pour Your Heart Out. Remember, it’s about what you want to pour out: it’s personal, so there isn’t an assigned topic.  It’s also about being supportive of others who are sharing. Please add the button from the sidebar or add a text link to your post if you are joining in. Don’t forget to visit other linkers. 


  1. says

    It’s such an automatic reflex to just say ‘It’s okay’ when someone says they are sorry. I found myself saying it when people would tell me they were sorry for my loss when my baby died- and I was so NOT okay at the time.
    Jayme recently posted..PYHO- Inferiority ComplexMy Profile

    • Shell says

      It feels rude not to automatically say “It’s okay,” but really- sometimes it’s really NOT okay.

  2. says

    It’s so true that it’s automatic to throw out the, “It’s ok.” Even when it’s not ok. I like that idea. I do say it to Abbey sometimes, because I want her to learn that saying, “I’m sorry,” doesn’t automatically erase her actions or words. It’s not that easy sometimes.

  3. says

    I think “it’s ok” is an automatic response, just like a mom saying she’s tired when someone asks how she is.  This is a great lesson because sometimes it’s not ok.

  4. says

    It’s funny how your PYHO is such a fitting compliment to mine. Even if the person I wanted to write about miraculously said she was sorry, it wouldn’t be enough. For me, I am working on the love, if not for this person, then for the love of my babies, my husband, & me–because moving through it, through forgiveness or through something else, is what our family needs.

    Thank you for reminding me of the wisdom if children!

    • Shell says

      Definitely have to move through it, for the good of our families, but it still doesn’t make it all okay with just a simple apology. 

  5. says

    It’s funny how kids have this wise wisdom of only a few years! “I’m sorry” sometimes just isn’t good enough – there is too much history behind the hurt for two words to overcome. We’ve all been on the giving and receiving end of this….hopefully we’re all striving to a world where we don’t intentionally hurt each other – and that instead of “I’m sorry” we’re saying “I love you!”
    Debra recently posted..I Want To Hold Your Hand…..My Profile

  6. says

    Very important lesson to learn! My high school tennis coach used to get on us if we yelled, “It’s OK,” when someone made a mistake. I have never forgot her lesson that making a mistake isn’t OK, but it does happen and we all need to work on correcting them.

    Apparently your kindergartner is just advanced in his lessons learned. :)

    Thanks for hosting today!
    The Mommy Therapy recently posted..Valentine’s Day, It’s Not Just For Lovers – PYHOMy Profile

  7. says

    We are trying to teach our children to say, “I forgive you.” It doesn’t make it okay, but I also want them to learn to forgive and not hold grudges. In the end, staying angry only will hurt them, but it is a hard lesson!

  8. says

    I’m having to teach Cheeks that same lesson.  She does things & thinks by simply saying “I’m Sorry” she’s automatically forgiven.   As you know, life isn’t that simple.  
    So now we have a new phrase “Sorry doesn’t cut it.”  

    • Shell says

      Very smart to say that. 

      In some cases, I want my kids to learn what grace is, but in others, I want them to see that their actions have consequences.

    • Shell says

      And sometimes it’s okay to let it slide- that’s showing grace. But, our kids need to learn that sometimes, they need to do more than that. 

  9. says

    I love this! A pet peeve of mine is when I make my preschooler apologize and the adult of the child she is addressing says, “It’s OK.” Which is normally followed by something like, “It’s totally normal for their age.” I know that, but I am trying to teach my child is is NOT OK to (push, hit, take a toy, etc ). She needs to learn those lessons, and when another adult tells her it’s OK, it makes me crazy!

    • Shell says

      So true- things shouldn’t just be brushed off like they are no big deal. At least, not all the time. That won’t teach them anything.

  10. says

    I tell my Big Girl, “sorry doesn’t change what happened.” I want her to know that throwing out a quick “I’m sorry” doesn’t fix what is wrong or change the fact that something happened. You have to think ahead and consider your actions before they happen.
    Jennifer recently posted..Just another dayMy Profile

  11. says

    I’m one of those people who frequently says “It’s okay” because it seems easier (and nicer) than saying it’s not okay. Which is ridiculous: If I’m hurt by another person’s words or actions, then they need to know that and know that what they did was not acceptable. This is definitely a good lesson to learn.
    Lady Lazarus recently posted..inkedMy Profile

    • Shell says

      I feel like I have to say it or it seems rude. But, I’m learning to not automatically say it. It belittles my feelings. 

  12. says

    I once read this story of a couple…one had done something that seemed unforgiveable. Upon talking to a friend and explaining what he had done, the friend turns to him and says…”you just expect her to say it’s ok and act like it didn’t change things? You can’t just expect that you will be forgiven because you said you were sorry. Because you have taken the control of the choice away from her. The guy says..how? His friend replies, when you say you’re sorry, you are still controlling the apology. You are not allowing them to truly make that decision to accept it. Go back to her and say these three words…Please, forgive me! When asking to be forgiven, in this way, you are giving up all control and allowing the person whom you wronged to have total control of their decision to FORGIVE you. 

    This story has remained with me ever since I read it…because I never stopped to think there was a difference. Thank you for reminding me that this act has no age…we should teach our children this difference!
    The Secret Life Of A Single Mom recently posted..Moments…My Profile

    • Shell says

      I used to, too. I’m trying to really think before I respond. Sometimes it’s okay and sometimes, it’s really not.

  13. says

    It’s good to teach the kiddos that saying sorry doesn’t always clear things up but, following the sorry with behavior change does! 

  14. says

    SUCH a good point, friend. I’ve always had an issue with people’s approval and so if they’ve done something to hurt me and then apologize, I’m ALWAYS quick to say “it’s okay” but my feelings and heart don’t always match that. Thanks for giving me something to think about and also the freedom to NOT say “it’s okay” when it isn’t.
    tricia recently posted..cooking in style, part two.My Profile

  15. says

    I love this post. I know someone who does the most horrible things – will call you awful names and do things of malicious intent, and then she thinks that because she says she’s sorry it’s okay. But it’s not okay. It’s never okay to cause harm to others – and if you’re sorry, then you need to change and stop doing so. Perfectly written, Shell!
    Lisa @ Two Bears Farm recently posted..I Got Blog Hate MailMy Profile

    • Shell says

      No, it’s really not okay.

      The little things, the unintentional- absolutely.

      But I’m sorry doesn’t fix everything.

  16. says

    your son showed that there’s power in the words “i forgive you”.  i try to say them when someone genuinely apologizes… and I dont say them until I can mean it for real.  im so glad you wrote about this.  Its important.
    Frelle recently posted..Wordless Wednesday and #iPPPMy Profile

  17. says

    It is so amazing what our children teach us on a daily basis. They are so untouched by the real world that it actually helps us put things in perspective. Such sweet boys you have!
    Jenny recently posted..Ella Bella . . .My Profile

  18. says

    I would like to shake the teacher’s hand who taught the kids that. Knowing when to accept an apology and knowing when it’s not enough is a tough skill to learn and I loved that she introduced it at such a young age.
    gin recently posted..Let’s Talk About LoveMy Profile

    • Shell says

      She really is amazing. My middle son has her this year. And if I have my way, my youngest will have her, too.

  19. says

    I love this post and also the post that it refers back to. I can accept apologies any day, but they must be heartfelt or don’t bother. I can hold a grudge for years, and it changes our relationship, but if it does, then it wasn’t meant to last after all.

    • Shell says

      If it’s genuine, I have no problem with it. But the brushing aside of hurt like it’s no big deal- I have a serious issue with.

  20. says

    What a great lesson! And honestly, it’s something I’ve tried to put into words in my marriage so many times.  It usually involves trivial things – destroying a piece of cookware, throwing out something I needed, shrinking a sweater – you know, the stuff you eventually move on over.  But at the time, I’m upset.  And sure, I know he’s sorry – but that doesn’t magically make things okay.  I’m still peeved.  And he doesn’t seem to understand that.  I can only imagine how more important issues would feel…
    Mrs. Jen B recently posted..I’m Heading To Blissdom!My Profile

  21. says

    Many life lessons can be learned through kindergarten.

    I am also trying to teach my kids that God wants us to forgive.  Doesn’t mean we will let others continue the wrong things to us, but he wants us to forgive…no matter how hard it is.
    Oka recently posted..PMM ~ Couldn’t be prouderMy Profile

    • Shell says

      Forgiveness and grace are important lessons, too. I’m trying to balance these with my kids. Have them be shown love/grace and forgive them when they’ve done something, but other times, let them see that the choices they make can really hurt someone and that a simple apology does not make it all magically okay.

    • Shell says

      I used to automatically say “It’s okay.” But, I’m learning to wait. I might not have the guts to say that I don’t accept it, but I try to let my silence speak. 

  22. says

    My kids follow this basic principle of I am sorry, followed by I forgive you. But I have always stressed “amends” too. not for simple accidents and such, but if a real hurt has occurred: either physically or emotionally – there has to be amends. My oldest 2 can really get nasty at times and say things that are mean. In addition to saying sorry, they must say something, or do something nice for the other person as a way to make amends. (This often results in 7 yr. old son reading several Dora books to younger sister, so he is normally very careful about what he says!) If a boo-boo has happened – they help take care of it; even if it is simply fetching a band-aid or cold pack.
    As for us adults – we are estranged from a family member right now because sorry is not enough. To be back in “right relationship”, much more has to occur. It is not that we don’t forgive them, just that more is required to make it okay again. Otherwise, I am quite certain this individual will simply repeat the offense. When someone is truly sorry — it should never happen again. period.
    RoryBore recently posted..Wordless Wednesday: Sugar OverloadMy Profile

  23. says

    I don’t apologize easily. It may be because there are so many times where I’ve said “That’s OK.” but not meant it. I say I’m sorry whenit means something. Sometimes it may take a day or two but it will almost always come.
    Jaime recently posted..Another Reason to LoveMy Profile

  24. says

    It’s amazing how our kids can teach us lessons that should seem so obvious. I think the words “I’m sorry” are so over used it has generated the “It’s okay” response. I noticed this a few months ago and I work hard to stand up for myself and allow my children to do the same. 
    Danielle recently posted..Miracles Happen…Right?My Profile

  25. says

    Accepting an apology means you’re forgiving them but not forgetting. If someone has to say I’m sorry that usually means they hurt you (intentional or not.) I don’t like saying “it’s ok” because that hurt is not ok…
    Life As Wife recently posted..A Not So Wordless WednesdayMy Profile

  26. says

    I think we all get it when we are kindergartners. It is long years and lots of managing relationships later that we forget. This week my husband’s friend said something terrible to me. After Mickey explained to him, the guy came and apologized and hugged me tight and cried, because he never would want to hurt anyone. This was a rare experience in friendship and faith for me.

    You are right. A simple sorry wouldn’t have been enough. Sometimes, there has to be a public demonstration of desire to receive the grace of forgiveness.
    Maggie S. recently posted..Breaking the IceMy Profile

    • Shell says

      Kids do probably get it easier- b/c they are more honest with their emotions. As adults, we end up thinking about how it will look if we don’t say “that’s okay.”

  27. says

    I love this post, Shell.

    I kind of want my fourteen-year-old son to read it. Because he’s been known to push my buttons…like ALL afternoon…because that’s the kind of kid he is and I’ve known that for fourteen years. But.

    Sometimes, when he’s gone too far and I he knows he’s made me angry he’ll say, “Why do you even want me to apologize? You won’t accept it.”

    And he’s right. Sometimes I’m still upset. Even after he’s said “I’m sorry.”
    And then I feel really small and immature.

    I’ve tried to explain to him that sometimes, after there’s been a cumulative effect of hurt feelings or frustration, his quick apology doesn’t cut it. I’m still hurt. Or frustrated. And I sometimes need more time to get over it.

    This post made me realize I’m not completely crazy for needing him to do or say something to actually make me feel better. And vice versa, I suppose.

    (Is it wrong that this was about kindergartners and I made it about me? A grown up? Ha!
    I could just relate. A lot.)
    julie gardner recently posted..Today call me unromanticMy Profile

    • Shell says

      I was thinking about it in terms of me, too. 😉 

      I think our kids(and us adults too) need to learn that just because we can say “I’m sorry” doesn’t make it okay to hurt people. And that those two little words don’t fix everything.

  28. says

    In recent years (a long time learning this lesson), I’ve been learning to sometimes say “Thank you for your apology” instead of “That’s okay.” Because in some cases, it’s not really okay. But I do appreciate the effort…for the most part. Usually, what I really want is for the person to empathize with my feelings; to take time to understand why I was hurt, and to change if change is warranted. Great post! What a smart lesson; our little people can be so wise sometimes!
    Pamela recently posted..What a Gas!My Profile

  29. says

    I like that teacher and her willingness to not let kids just hurt each other willy nilly. I suspect My take on this is that the injured party and the one doing harm need to have a kind of equal relationship for ‘sorry’ ‘i don’t accept that, now do something for me’ to not turn into something more ugly than the original confrontation. But I suspect that the teacher has that kind of built into her system. It would definitely help my youngest hellion get a sense of exactly what he has DONE to people sometimes.
    Jessie Powell recently posted..Celebrate CALM Part 2My Profile

    • Shell says

      With the little things, sorry is enough… but we all need to realize that we need to do more sometimes. 

  30. says

    I love your post! It’s so true sometimes it’s not okay. I haven’t thought about this in such simple terms but I love the way they taught it.  I make my children apologize but the person on the receiving end always has the finally say in how they respond since they are the ones hurt! Thanks for pouring your heart out and sharing this lesson! 
    Queen Bee recently posted..Where in the world…My Profile

  31. says

    I hate the idea that we teach children that saying “sorry” makes it okay and that you can say sorry even if you don’t really mean it.  My oldest was a little bit of an aggressive and vengeful child.  Her teachers would get so mad because she refused to say sorry when she felt someone was getting what they deserved.  I used to tell them I would talk to my daughter about the way she handled her emotions, but I would never make her say sorry jut to get “out of trouble”.

    Your Monkey is a smart boy.
    Making It Work Mom recently posted..Happy Valentine’s DayMy Profile

  32. says

    This is something I haven’t thought about in a really really long time.  Great topic.  It’s true though, there are so many times when a “I’m Sorry” just doesn’t cut it.  Where you realize they said “I’m sorry,” but you know they’re really not sorry, or they really didn’t realize the pain or hurt or damaged they caused. 

    And not to mention the times where one too many “sorry’s” come.  

    But during those moments, what do we say instead? Do we confront it, do we act pissed off, or do we just take their sorry and back away full speed ahead. 
    Jamie recently posted..Las Vegas, a city beyond Gambling!My Profile

  33. says

    Great post, and absolutely true. Sometimes an “I’m sorry” isn’t enough…although sometimes when I’m the one in the wrong (I know, shocking but it does happen once in a blue moon 😉 ), that’s all I feel I have to offer.

    I love that Cub calls Monkey “my guy.” Too cute!
    Heather H recently posted..PYHO: Lost PurposeMy Profile

    • Shell says

      And sometimes, it really is all that is needed. There are sometimes, though, when we have to try harder to make it up to someone.

  34. says

    A lesson for all of us to learn. And our kids are so full of beautiful lessons that we can learn and benefit from if we truly listen to what they have to say. Thanks for sharing.
    Sela Toki recently posted..The Grand FinaleMy Profile

  35. says

    See, to me, there is a fine line here, because not accepting an apology can turn into emotional manipulation fairly easily. If you are not going to accept the apology you better tell the person why, and what more you are looking for.

    • Shell says

      That’s very true. 

      I don’t think it’s something that should be said in all occasions. 

      But, in the “big” hurts. And yes, being honest about what it will take to heal the hurt.

    • Shell says

      Oh girl- no worries at all! 

      I hope you have been loving your new job! 

      I’m still trying to find a routine with mine, too. 

  36. says

    I have learned recently that it a sincere apology is one that gives the power back to the forgiver. Instead of saying “I’m sorry.” “Will you accept my apology?” Or “Will you forgive me?” Then it is up to the person to say “Yes. I do” or “No…but this might make it better…” People throw “I’m sorry” out there just cover their butts I think…so later they can say “Well I SAID I was sorry!” We have to acknowledge number one that we hurt someone and number two that we take responsibility for reconciling. Anything less and the apology is insincere! Great post! I am visiting from Momcomms post today…by the way!
    Christine recently posted..Letters to My Younger Self: Stuff I Wish I KnewMy Profile

  37. says

    What frightens me about a lesson like this, though the lesson is proper, is that there are times when you spend a lifetime trying to make up for a seemingly-insignificant wrong, but the person just wants to be “made up to” for forever.  As an adult, I can say “well, I’m not willing to pay that to mend this, so I’ll terminate the relationship,” but as kids, that’s outside of the realm of possibility.

    It sounds like your kids are well-grounded, and things will hardly escalate . . . but I could see that happening in other households.  It’s quite important to not just accept an apology because it’s offered . . . but it’s also important to weigh just when an apology is enough.
    John recently posted..Where I just close my eyes & typeMy Profile

    • Shell says

      That’s true- it could totally get out of hand with a “you owe me” type of attitude. Which isn’t healthy, either. 

      It’s all about teaching the right balance of grace, I think.

  38. says

    What an awesome message for us and our kids. What a great thing to have little boys who know their boundaries and who stand up for themselves in a kind way.
    Mel recently posted.."Bad" WordsMy Profile

  39. says

    This is so true.  And it’s especially meaningless when someone says “I’m sorry” and then continues to do the same thing over and over.  Sorry is not some magic words that makes everything better.
    I love your new look….I’m scared to ask how long you’ve had it, I’m so behind in my blog-reading!  =/
    dysfunctional mom recently posted..A Moving PostMy Profile

    • Shell says

      When it’s genuine, it’s fine. But some just use it as empty words.

      Thanks- I’ve had it for just a little while. I’m way behind on my blog reading, too. 

  40. says

    It’s amazing the things we get conditioned to say.  Like when someone asks how you are doing, it’s pretty much automatic to say “I’m good, how are you?”

  41. says

    I think “I’m sorry” works the first time. But after that, if you keep doing the same thing over and over and over again? Sorry just doesn’t cut it anymore. My grandmother used to tell me that if someone was REALLY sorry for something, they wouldn’t do it again. I think she was right. And those kindergarteners are onto something! 
    Courtney Kirkland recently posted..Small BlessingsMy Profile

  42. says

    Wow I say “that’s okay” all the time in response to “I’m sorry.” You’re totally right to that saying sorry doesn’t make it okay. This whole parenting thing is harder than it seems!!

  43. says

    That’s such a great lesson. I, like many of the commentators here, have said “it’s okay” in response to “I’m sorry” because it’s like a knee-jerk reaction. I’ve even said “it’s okay,” at times, in anticipation of others’ wrongful actions without even being first told “I’m sorry.” This post reminds me that unless I’m really OK, I shouldn’t pretend to be OK just out of a sense of obligation to another person’s apology. Great lesson, indeed!
    Jessica recently posted..Breastfeeding for a second timeMy Profile

    • Shell says

      Sometimes, an apology is all I need… but there are other times when I need to see a change before I say that it’s okay. 

  44. says

    I really really love this lesson. As others have said, saying “It’s OK” often feels meaningless but by being able to choose to accept or not accept someone’s apology is empowering, especially for kids who are often told what to do, how to do it and when to do it. Thanks for sharing this. I also just participated in my first PYHO. I wasn’t intending to but kind of needed it.
    Christine @ Love, Life, Surf recently posted..OverwhelmedMy Profile

  45. says

    I’ve taught my children the same thing. At home, we say, “I forgive you” and at school its’ “I accept..” (or don’t if that’s the case) I also teach them to say, “I need more time’ or “I’m not ready yet” The underlying message is that you are allowed to feel how you feel, but you need to be POLITE in conveying it!
    Sorta Southern Single Mom recently posted..Friday Fragments: + Graphics!My Profile

  46. says

    The “All I Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten” poster was so true, right?  Kids are so smart.  Or, maybe it’s the teachers who have the world all figured out.  It’s kind of like asking politely.  Just because someone says “please” you don’t have to succumb to their request.  Hard to have those boundaries as an adult.
    Jen Has A Pen recently posted..Bacon, Lettuce, and Asshole SandwichMy Profile

  47. FC says

    There seem to be an awful lot of perfect people here who have never spoken out of turn and never needed to apologise. If someone told me ‘I forgive you’ to an apology I would find that incredibly patronising. To my mind , ‘that’s ok’ implies forgiveness. Some of you clearly don’t have enough to worry about – getting annoyed because your husband said ‘I’m sorry’ because he broke an item of cookware – give me strength and find something really worth getting annoyed about.