When Sorry Isn’t Enough

By Joey and Carla Link
May 11, 2022

When our son was about 12 years old, we were struggling with an on-going behavior issue with him. We kept talking to him and dealt with his refusal to obey consistently.

One day, out of frustration, I (Joey) said to him “You need to admit you are wrong” and he responded by saying, “that will never happen because I am never wrong!” Well, at least we knew what the root issue was. He was strong-minded and we knew his temperament had trouble admitting when he was wrong, so we can’t say any of this was surprising to us.

It’s one thing for kids to change what they are doing to please you for a while, but that usually only lasts a few days or so. When kids verbally acknowledge what they have been doing is wrong, then they have to start working on changing their behavior and attitudes to comply with the standards of moral character they know is right.

When he said he was never wrong, that was like an electric shock to us telling us that he wasn’t changing his ways because he really didn’t think he was ever wrong so why put the effort in to work on making character changes? This is not an isolated issue with kids with the Choleric temperament. The problem is that they are rarely wrong in how they think and what they do. It is their attitude (which drives their wrong actions) that is the problem.

Kids have many words and phrases that give lip service to their parents to get out of trouble and to disarm parental intentions of dealing deeper with kids’ behavior and heart issues. Your kids might apologize and say they are sorry and use words and phrases to lead you to think they are going to work on their behavior, but they have no real motivation to change unless you force them to.

Phrases like:
I will work on it (though they don’t plan on changing anything)
I am sorry, I will get right on it.
Don’t worry, I know what I need to do.

That day with our son, we realized he needed to admit he was wrong, and we needed to wait him out until he did. And we did.

It took several hours and he had no freedom to do anything during that time. You may think this sounds harsh, but who was making the choice to sit that long? All he had to do was admit he was wrong. Carla took a sandwich she knew wasn’t his favorite and a glass of water to him in his room for lunch. I took the girls out for ice cream. When he heard us laughing and having fun, he finally gave in.

We knew this was just the beginning of a long road ahead of us all. We sat the kids down that night and told them that starting their apology with “I’m sorry, will you forgive me?” would no longer work in our family, and that included Carla and I too. We told them their apologies had to be specific because that showed the one you are apologizing to that you really understood what they were upset about. From then on, apologizing would look like this:

“I’m sorry for speaking to you harshly. It was wrong of me because I was disrespecting you as a person when I did so. It wasn’t kind or nice of me. Will you forgive me. I will work on taking a deep breath the next time I get frustrated with you and calm myself before I talk to you.”

We told them that apologies were pointless and meaningless if their siblings and us didn’t feel like the offender meant it, and if the offender didn’t actually plan to change in the future. It took several consistent months for us to stay on him to see the change in him owning his behavior instead of us trying to fight him to change it. When he started to admit he was wrong, and tell us how he would work on changing his behavior, it made all the difference in his actions and attitude. Today he is a friend, one of the first people I go to when I am looking for advice. He is a great husband and father and loves the Lord. We are thankful for that day so long ago that turned apologizing in our family around.

If you would like more information on this, you will find it in the Mom’s Notes presentations, “Understanding Freedoms, Pt.1” and “Understanding Freedoms, Pt. 2”.