Say “I’m Sorry”: Teaching Kids Good Manners

Well, actually, I figured out that it is not about “teaching kids to have good manners.”

It’s not about teaching my child to say please when she wants something.

It’s not about teaching my child to say thank you when she has received something.

It’s not about teaching my child to say sorry when she has hurt someone or something.

Those awkward moments grate on me, when others (or the voice in my head) expect my daughter to say or do something to show she is good-mannered. I want my daughter to feel what true compassion feels like, what true gratitude feels like, what a true request feels like. When I try to do these things we, as parents, should be “getting our children” to do, I have found these things hard to manage myself.

I have realized that my child’s manners are all about me and my most powerful parenting tool: my example.

It is about me saying please when I ask something of her.

How many times a day do you ask your child to do something or not to do something? How many times do you say please? When you are out at the store or running errands, how many times do you say please when you are asking someone to do something?

Part of Nonviolent Communication is to make requests (as opposed to demands). It is difficult sometimes to maintain a headspace where I am asking my daughter to do something instead of demanding or commanding. Saying “please” reminds me that I  want her to choose to do what I am asking, not just to do what I say.

It’s about me saying thank you when she gives me something or does something for me.

Out of the three of these, I do the best on this one, but only because gratitude is something I have integrated into my whole life. Still, I often have to make a point to stop, recognize and acknowledge the gratitude I feel for my daughter, who she is and what she does.

As parents, we give and give and give to our children. I feel joyously connected and humbled when my child says “Thank you, mama” for doing something that felt important to her. Makes it all worthwhile. (And keep my attitude in check!)

It’s about me saying I am sorry when I have done something I wish I had done differently.

Marshall B. Rosenberg, of the Center for Nonviolent Communication, has a powerful perspective on “sorry” and what we might say instead that would be more accurate and meaningful.) He describe the feeling of sorry without using the word sorry. It’s about me understanding what need I was trying to meet in the moment, doing what I did or saying what I said, and also understanding what need I did not get met by my actions and words.

It is much clearer for me, knowing and acknowledging what I wish I would have done and how I feel hurt/sad that I wasn’t able to meet the needs of myself and others, than saying “I’m sorry.” I actually say I’m sorry too much, almost without thinking. I have recognized this in myself and want to set an example for my children that is mindful.


All these efforts to use my example to show my daughter what we value as a family actually has proven to be effective in my life.

The most recent example went right to my heart:

My daughter was having feelings when I was attending to her brother for something. She hit me. (She’s been having bigger feelings, for the bigger number of years she is, perhaps.)

She stopped, her face fell from angry to desperately sad as she said, “I’m sorry I hit you, mama,” and crawled up next to me and then into my lap to sit and rock for a few minutes.

This girl knew what the meaning of sorry was. She felt that she was trying to get her need for closeness met but disrespected and hurt me in the process. She shifted to doing something that actually got her needs met, acknowledging with an “I’m sorry” that what she had done was, as Rosenberg says, “a tragic expression of an unmet need.”

We cuddled close like when she was a baby, renewing and reaffirming our bond as mother and daughter. It was a precious moment.

Spontaneous. Unforced. From the heart.

Just like “good manners” ought to be…



7 responses to this post.

  1. […] Say “I’m Sorry” : Teaching Kids Good Manners {A Living Family} […]


  2. […] Say “I’m Sorry”: Teaching Kids Good Manners  {alivingfamily via Not Just Cute} […]


  3. If you’re looking for another way to literally bring this message home, I recommend a book called Tashlich at Turtle Rock . Written by mother and daughter Susan Schnur and Anna Schnur-Fishman, it describes their family’s unique High Holiday tashlich ritual. Every year after Rosh Hashanah services, the Schnur family goes on a nature walk. Along the way, they scratch words into rocks that represent good memories from the past year, toss acorns into a stream to represent memories they are ashamed of, throw pieces of bread into the water and silently reflect on behaviors they want to change, and finally, dip their feet into the water and make promises for the coming year. They don’t focus on saying the empty “I’m sorry,” but with every step, they reflect on their actions from the past year, reinforcing the importance of actions over words. It’s not enough to say sorry, you have to do sorry. (Check out our tashlich activities to figure out how you can do something like this at home, too.) No one is perfect. No one expects perfection. The gift we have this time of year is the chance to look inward and think about how we could be better. And that’s the hardest thing about saying “sorry”… it’s really meaning it.


  4. Posted by crashtestlaney on December 10, 2012 at 10:21 pm

    Sometimes I feel my requests for them to use their manners are arbitrary. The reasons for them to feel thankful or sorry are much more important.


  5. Yes, @crashtestmummy, I feel my “arbitrary” requests are rooted in “what other people think.” I feel best about my actions and words when I have taken the time to observe what is going on inside my child and the situation and nurtured the seeds of love and compassion I see there. ~sheila


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