That was the message I got throughout my childhood. I would try to say that I was sorry to avoid being hit or yelled at and my parents would say, “Sorry isn’t good enough” either outright or through hurting me in some way to punish me for whatever I either truly did wrong or they perceived as wrong.
I, unfortunately, now say “Sorry” a lot and I mean it but my therapist said that it comes from my childhood abuse and that I say it too much, even when I am not in the wrong. I hate conflicts and try to fix them as soon as possible, but I keep having relationships that reinforce the “Sorry isn’t good enough” message. It is a major trigger for me when people don’t accept my sincere apology.
So what are we teaching our children when we either force them to apologize and/or don’t accept their apology? Well, obviously if they are punished and/or abused, they may learn to try to use it as protection, only it doesn’t work and then they learn that apologies don’t work.
Children also learn to apologize when they don’t feel sorry. It is better to apologize for the child until he/she is truly able to apologize and mean it. Forcing the child to apologize for something just teaches him/her to say it when he/she is in trouble.
It also teaches children to believe that people won’t accept the apology. We break the “Sorry isn’t good enough” message by modeling apologizing to them and always apologizing to them when we make mistakes. They need to see the adults in their lives do it and have it accepted. If it isn’t accepted, then explain to them that some people don’t have the ability to accept the apology and that is on those people and not our fault.
There should be very few instances when an apology truly isn’t enough such as major crime and other adult things that children shouldn’t have to deal with but will because we live in a world where crime and truly horrible things happen.
Finally, while a child should never be punished, natural consequences will happen. If a child hits another child, the hurt child will cry and may not want to play with the child right away. Ask the child that hit what he/she can do to help the other child feel better. Apologies that are sincere should always be good enough!!!