Why I Don’t Use "Sorry"

I don’t have children use the word “Sorry” at Rainbow Bridge. The reason for this is that what we want from the word sorry is very complex: something along the lines of “I feel bad about what I did, I hope you’re not hurt too badly, and I’ll try my best not to do it again.” All of that in one word? The kids who come to my house using the word Sorry rarely seem to be saying any of that when they use the word; it’s simply what you’re supposed to say when you hurt someone. It usually comes out quickly and with little emotion behind it.

Young children live primarily in the will, so instead of words, I have them go straight to action when they hurt someone. After comforting the child who’s hurt, I help the aggressor think of what they can do to help the other child feel better. If they push a child who falls down and bumps their head, they can run and get an ice-pack for the other child (or we’ll all go to get it together, but I’ll hand it to them to give to the hurt child). If a child is hurt less badly, I’ll suggest that they help rub the other child’s back. Sometimes, especially if they hit or bit the other child, the hurt child doesn’t want the perpetrator to touch them yet. In that case I’ll suggest that they find a toy that the hurt child might like. Once the child who’s crying has calmed down some, then I might move to words, depending on how verbal the aggressor is (usually around age 2 ½ or older). I’ll say, “It looks like she’s feeling a little bit better. Why don’t you ask her, ‘Will you be OK?’” Usually the child responds with a yes or a nod. Then, especially if I can tell they feel bad, I’ll suggest that they say, “I didn’t mean to hurt you.” This seems much more specific and relevant than the word “sorry” to me. And, regardless of the circumstances, I think children usually do not mean to hurt one another. Yes, they may have hit the other child, but it seems like it almost always comes as a surprise when the other child bursts into tears as a result. Children at this age are just following their impulses, and they have to learn through repeated experience what the effects of those impulses are, before they can learn to control them.

If the aggressor is old enough (usually starting at age 3 ½ or so), I’ll follow the whole experience up with a brief conversation where I’ll ask them what happened leading up to the incident, and we’ll brainstorm together on what alternatives they might have used. If they wanted a toy that another child had, they could ask if they could use it when they’re done, or they could offer something else as a trade. If the other child was trying to take their toy, they could say ‘you can use it when I’m done,’ or give another toy to that child. If a child wouldn’t get out of their way, they could say ‘excuse me’ or move around the child. If a child was throwing sand on them, they could say, ‘please stop throwing sand.’

And always, I strive to remember that children are doing the best they can with the tools they have. Learning to interact with words is a very complex skill, one that takes several years (or, for some of us, a lifetime!) to learn. We caretakers are here to help teach them these skills, and then help them practice again and again and again.

Miss Faith


  1. Great post! Our 22 month old says "Sorry" all the time. I think it started in imitation of us…apologizing after an argument, or "Oops, sorry I bumped into you!" (We are a bit clutzy in this house and I am always tripping over the cat, the child, the shoes).

    This has developed into a constant habit. He is "sorry" when he drops his juice. He is "sorry" when he falls. He is "sorry" when he spills his plate. I feel so bad for him because I hope he doesn't think he is at fault for an accident! Or getting hurt! And we aren't the type to yell over spilled milk.

    But then he will apologize for purposefully throwing toys. And repeat the behavior right away despite being "sorry" so I am almost confident that it is more imitative than psychlogical…but I worry still.

    I've tried telling him that he doesn't need to be sorry for things that are accidents….but it doesn't seem to register. Should I ignore it or What?

  2. I would not worry about this at all! I suspect your little guy is just trying to show you he knows the difference between right and wrong in his world, that he knows how things "should" be. I've seen lots of toddlers do that around his age, although usually they use the word "uh-oh": whenever something spills, they see a rip in your skirt, or they do something they know is not approved (throwing toys, dropping their spoon on the floor, etc.). Don't worry about him feeling guilty or bad, I think that is a nuance that comes to the word much later in life. When young children feel bad about something, you will know it!

  3. Great post! I am writing up a behaviour management strategies for our toddler room and I don't want us to get children to say 'sorry' for the same reasons. I like what you said about encouraging the children to say 'I didn't mean to hurt you'.

  4. I love reading your blogs. Back in my classroom days, I started out with toddlers. Now reading your blogs gives me practical ideas to use with my own little guy. I love your blog and have given you the Stylish Blogger Award on my site here:

  5. Thanks, Annette! I love being stylish!

  6. This was great! I have three boys and it frustrates my oldest (4 1/2) to no end when he is forced to say he's sorry. I can tell he doesn't mean it, but I can also see that he is some times upset if he has hurt his 2 year old brother. We will immediately begin to use your suggestions!

  7. DhanyaMass says

    Hey Miss Faith, I was wondering if you could write more on hitting.

    Our pre-verbal 15 mo is going through a rough phase this past month. He hits me and my husband in the face, throws things at us and the dog, pulls the cats by their tails and bops the goats on the nose. He's just being too rough with everyone.

    We've tried reminding and showing him how to use "gentle hands," and here lately we've been yelling, "No, we don't hit!" but that doesn't help either. My husband is getting really frustrated as this behavior continues and increases, and he wants me to start smacking him on the hand but that just seems antithetical to all my parenting philosophies.

    Just seems hard for us to communicate the ideas to him… maybe it seems harder because he doesn't yet talk himself…

  8. Miss Faith says

    Hi DhanyaMass,

    I'll write a post on this in the next few days…


  1. […] I don’t tend to have children say that they’re sorry (see my post on Why I Don’t Use Sorry); in this case, I’d have her move into action to help make things right. Perhaps she could […]

  2. […] Here are a couple of posts that might help: https://www.joyfultoddlers.com/2011/08/pre-verbal-hitting/ https://www.joyfultoddlers.com/2011/02/why-i-dont-use-sorry/ (this is more for older kids, but it explains why a little) This entry was posted in […]

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