How to apologize well
Episode 14 – Rowan, Age 12: Feels guilty, wants to make up with a friend
Think About It Questions
- Have you ever felt guilty about something you did (or didn’t do) to a friend? How did you handle that? Were you able to make up with the friend?
- Why do you think some kids have a hard time apologizing? How hard or easy is it for you to apologize?
- Think about a time that someone apologized to you. Do you think they were genuinely sorry? How could you tell?
- Dr. Friendtastic says that guilt can be a useful emotion, even though it’s uncomfortable. Do you agree? Why or why not?
Hi, there! I’m Dr. Eileen Kennedy-Moore, also known as Dr. Friendtastic. I’m an author and clinical psychologist based in Princeton, NJ.
Here’s today’s question:
Hi, my name is Rowan, and I'm 12 years old. My question is: Sometimes I can be mean to my best friend. I feel bad after. What's the best way to make it up to him?
Hi, Rowan. I’m so glad you asked this question!
We all make mistakes sometimes with our friends. So figuring out how to move beyond those mistakes is very important for helping friendships last.
That bad feeling you have after you’ve done something that hurts someone is called “guilt.” Guilt is that pinch of conscience that says, “Ooh! Shouldn’t have done that!” Guilt is an uncomfortable feeling, but it’s useful. It helps us recognize when we’ve made a mistake, and it guides us to move forward in kinder ways.
The fact that you felt guilty after being mean to your friend tells me you care about him, and you want to do better by him from now on. That’s a great place to start working things out!
Often the fastest way to patch things up with a friend is to apologize. Sometimes kids have trouble apologizing because they think it means admitting that they’re a terrible person, and they’ll always be terrible with nothing good or likable about them at all, ever.
That’s just not true. A sincere apology doesn’t say, “I’m terrible!” It says, “I care about you!”
So, how do you apologize? Well, just saying, “Sorr-ee-ee!” isn’t going to help. Apologies only matter if you mean them!
A good way to apologize is to say, “I’m sorry for…” Start with the word “I” then say you’re sorry, then say the specific action or lack of action you regret.
“I’m sorry for whatever” doesn’t sound sincere.
“I’m sorry you’re upset” also doesn’t cut it because it’s not mentioning your part in causing the upset.
“I’m sorry for calling you that name...” Now we’re getting somewhere!
Here’s another tip: don’t add the word “but” after you say you’re sorry because that erases the apology. For example, “I’m sorry for calling you that name, but you always call me names, and you also borrowed my hat and never gave it back!” Ugh, that apology was completely erased by everything after the “but.”
Now we can’t stop there! It’s not enough just to say the words of an apology. We have to back it up with actions to show we mean it!
What could you DO to make things right or make it up to your friend? If something is broken, maybe you could fix it or replace it. If you said something untrue about your friend, maybe you could tell everyone the truth.
If there’s nothing you can do right now to fix things, tell your friend your plan for how you’re going to handle things differently in the future. You could say, “From now on, I’m going to be extra careful to…” or “The next time that situation comes up, I’ll be sure to…”
Another possibility for putting your apology into action is to do something special to show your friend how much he means to you. Depending on the situation, maybe you could do a favor for him or give him a small gift or plan an extra fun get-together with just the two of you. Having fun together is a good way to repair a friendship.
There’s one more step that would be helpful, and that’s to think about what led up to your mistake. It’s important for you to take an honest look at what you were thinking or what was happening that set the stage for your mistake. This helps you be ready to do better next time.
For instance, maybe you were trying to be funny and ignored that your friend wasn’t enjoying your humor. You could recognize that and promise yourself you’re going to listen the first time when your friend says stop or maybe just stay away from a sensitive topic.
Or, maybe you were kind of showing off to try to look cool or impress other people. If you realize that, you can remind yourself that being loyal to a good friend is more important than impressing a crowd and that putting someone else down doesn’t lift you up. Then promise yourself you’re going to stick up for your buddy and have his back from now on.
Good friends try to learn from their mistakes.
This has been Kids Ask Dr. Friendtastic. If you have a question about making and keeping friends that you’d like me to answer, go to DrFriendtastic.com, and click on the podcast tab to see how to submit your question.