| A Better You |

Say You’re Sorry      

An apology needs more than the words, “I’m sorry”

Say You’re Sorry
Zipora Schuck

Two children have some type of altercation, with one child accusing the other of saying something or doing something mean. The adult wants the children to get along, so the kids are encouraged (forced) to “apologize.” The first child says, “I’m sorry.” The second child also says, “I’m sorry,” but then mutters under his breath “idiot!” and walks away. The adult feels good — shalom has been restored — yet the children leave the interaction no better off than before they started.

What went wrong?

Using the words “I’m sorry” in isolation — without having thought about what you’re sorry for, why you’re sorry, and how both people in the equation are feeling — means the apology is insincere, and an opportunity for self-reflection is missed.

Apologizing is a crucial step in repairing damage that has been done. But as the Rambam teaches us in Hilchos Teshuvah, it’s not the only step. Certainly, an apology needs more than the words, “I’m sorry.”

To help your child successfully own their behavior and move past it when they’ve done something wrong, consider teaching them this five-step apology system. Model it when needed (even adults need to apologize sometimes) to help them use it.

Let’s say your child picked up his friend’s science fair project without permission, dropped it, and it broke. Teach your child to:

  1. Express regret: I am so sorry.
  2. Acknowledge your part: I broke your project when I dropped it.
  3. Acknowledge what you did wrong: I shouldn’t have touched something that didn’t belong to me.
  4. Think and talk about your feelings and the feelings of the other person: I feel bad you worked so hard, and now it’s ruined.
  5. Show remorse and try to make it better: I’m really sorry. I would be happy to help you make a new one.

Or say your child was losing a game, and so accused his friend of cheating. Show your child how to:

  1. Express regret: I’m sorry.
  2. Acknowledge your part: I called you a cheater when I got frustrated about the game.
  3. Acknowledge what you did wrong: You were playing fairly and weren’t cheating.
  4. Think and talk about your feelings and the feelings of the other person: I hate losing and just said nasty things to you that weren’t true.
  5. Show remorse and try to make it better: I feel so bad. I’ll be careful what I say the next time we play.

A significant feature of this type of apology is that the child genuinely accepts responsibility for his behavior. Until he can see and say that he did something wrong, having him apologize is missing the point.

When children struggle with this, sometimes they need an adult to help them reach the intersection of empathy and perception by asking: How do you think she was feeling when you did that?

How would you have felt if that happened to you?

Why do you think he was upset?

I’m wondering if it made her feel….

Learning how to apologize is a crucial interpersonal skill that children will need in every future relationship they will have. The earlier they are able to learn how to apologize, the more opportunities they will have to implement it and repair rifts successfully.

Zipora Schuck MA. MS. is a NYS school psychologist and educational consultant for many schools in the NY/NJ area. She works with students, teachers, principals, and parents to help children be successful.


Beads on a String
Shoshana Schwartz

Everyone has difficult emotional moments: Your boss criticizes you in front of your coworkers and you want to sink into the floor; your toddler’s dramatic meltdown triggers an internal one of your own; a family member brushes aside your fears, which leaves you feeling invalidated and isolated.

If you’ve developed emotional resilience, even though these moments can evoke a range of unpleasant emotions such as hurt, regret, shame, anger, or loneliness, you’ll process the event and your emotional response at an appropriate pace and move on.

If you’re not (yet) emotionally resilient, each difficult moment can feel overwhelming, as if your skin can’t contain the intensity of your emotions. You may feel like you need to explode, implode, or disappear altogether.

To help develop your emotional resilience, picture a row of beads on a string. When the beads are close together, there’s no space in between. Every time one bead moves slightly, it rubs against the others, sending vibrations down the string.

Each bead represents an emotionally difficult moment in your life. A long sequence of difficult moments can overload the string, tighten it, and make it twisted and gnarled. The tension may feel unbearable.

To deal with this unsightly string, it may seem easiest to smooth and polish their exteriors, improving the string’s appearance. But what if, instead of trying to make your emotional “beads” shiny — with denial or cursory acceptance — you aim to create space between them? Gently and respectfully examine each bead, untwist the knots between them, and gradually restore the string to its optimal length. As you do so, you’ll begin to notice an increase in calm moments in between the bumps.

Shifting your objective from denying that the beads require attention to appreciating the expansion of space between them can make the necklace of emotions more comfortable to wear as you develop resilience.

Shoshana Schwartz specializes in compulsive eating, codependency, and addictive behaviors. She is the founder of SlimHappyMama.


Changing the Dance
Abby Delouya

When we set boundaries or change things in a relationship, it can be very difficult for the other person. Ideally, you have an open and healthy communication system and can discuss what needs to change and why. But even with an open understanding of new boundaries, roles, and expectations, it’s hard to change ingrained patterns. Often, when we change the steps of a dance, it can feel even more complicated and messy as the other person learns the new steps. Validating your spouse’s feelings by saying, “I see it’s hard for you when we used to ‘X’ and now I’m asking that we do ‘Y,’” can make it feel less threatening for the other person. Try being patient, reassuring, and understanding, and most importantly, stay consistent so that your spouse can learn the new steps and you can be in tandem once again.

Abby Delouya RMFT-CCC, CPTT is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice, specializing in trauma and addiction. Abby is also the COO and Director of Intake of Ray of Hope.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 901)

Oops! We could not locate your form.