Skill building the 3 step apology

Ever messed up?


I mess up constantly, not so much because I’m incompetent, but because I keep trying new things.  It gives me many opportunities to model how to apologize!


Some of us give a perfunctory “I’m sorry” and leave it at that.  When your feelings were hurt and that’s all that happened, was it hard to forgive?  It has been for me.


To really make amends, do all three parts:


  1. Recognize the impact on the other person. Demonstrate that you really understand how you hurt them, and that you really wish it had gone differently.
  2. Ask what you can do to help the other person feel better right now. Our little ones might skip asking and simply be generous in the moment, getting an icy or a toy.
  3. Say what you learned. Take steps to prevent the same thing from happening again.


Without all three steps – remorse, caretaking, and learning – I’ve had a hard time trusting that my boundaries won’t be crossed again.


One of us is going to learn!  Either I’ll learn what to expect from that person, or they’ll learn how I want to be treated.  On my side, it’s not quite holding a grudge; it’s more like learning how to cope…but it certainly isn’t forgiven and forgotten.


So if “I’m sorry” has lost its meaning, has become automatic, consider replacing it with these 3 steps.


If “I’m sorry” has become a way to acknowledge someone else, try replacing it with “bummer.”  When your friend complains that his car was towed, no apology is needed!


Boundary violations happen all the time.  If someone’s trying to apologize to you, and it’s just not satisfying, try asking for each of these steps.  See if this repairs the rift.


In support of you,



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