When “I’m Sorry” Isn’t Enough: Teaching the Principle of Restitution


When our oldest son was nine, he failed to correctly complete an assignment at school.

“I’m sorry,” he responded to his teacher’s reprimand.

“Unfortunately, in this case ‘sorry’ isn’t enough!” she replied.

That same week one of Jill’s friends had a similar experience. Her friend had loaned some very nice maternity clothes to another woman. When Jill’s friend became pregnant and asked for them back, the sister told her that she was very sorry, but they had been in a bag that had accidentally been put out with the garbage.

Again, “I’m sorry” did nothing to help the problem.

In the Church, we are frequently reminded about the importance of forgiving one another. We are told that we are “required to forgive all men.” (D&C 64:10.)

When our children argue with one another, we ask them to apologize to each other—to say, “I’m sorry.” When three-year-old Bryan tells seven-year-old Adam that he is sorry for coloring on his math homework, Adam is supposed to forgive and forget. Forgiveness is our responsibility. However, when we teach our children the principle of repentance, more is involved than saying “I’m sorry.” Repentance requires that we change our lives and, if possible, make amends for our mistakes. This is where the principle of restitution comes in.

Restitution has always been a part of the gospel plan. We read in the law of Moses that when one has sinned against another, “he shall even restore it in the principal, and shall add the fifth part more thereto.” (Lev. 6:5.)

When we make a restitution for our sins, we show our Father in Heaven that we are willing to change our lives. As parents, we can do much to instill this important principle in children. Perhaps the following ideas will help:

First, set a good example yourself. When Jill had accidentally broken a glass animal at an older friend’s home, the sister dismissed her apologies and told Jill not to worry about it. But the incident continued to bother Jill. Although she looked for many months for an exact replacement, one could not be located. Finally, a nearly exact substitute was found. As she packed the little animal in a box to send to the friend, she explained to the children what had happened and why she was replacing the object.

Second, from the time that children are little, they can be taught to restore what they have ruined or lost as best as they are able. If Adam learns that when he draws on his older brother’s book report he will have to do Matt’s chores while Matt recopies the report, he might not be so quick to thoughtlessly doodle again. He may want to change his actions.

When Johnny and the family dog decide to take a shortcut through Mrs. Jones’ flower bed, a trip to the garden nursery for a new flat of begonias may be in order. The child can either use money from his savings account or he may have to find some ways (perhaps with your help) to earn the money for the new plants.

Six-year-old Benjamin’s zealous desire to feed his older sister’s goldfish may result in the purchase of a new can of fish food and new fish. Suzanne may feel sorry about having drawn on the wall in Mommy’s bathroom, but soap and a scrub brush are still necessary.

Third, restitution should be made for mistakes. If we run into the back of someone else’s car, it is called an “accident.” However, the law still expects us to pay for having the other car repaired.

One of our children didn’t understand why we had made him buy a new school box for a little girl in his class. It had been on the floor when he had been walking up the aisle and stepped on it. It wasn’t until later in life when Robert’s car hood was damaged accidentally by a service station attendant, who then had to pay for the repair, that things appeared in a different light.

Fourth, teach all the aspects of repentance. Children need to understand that restitution is just one part of repentance, that repentance really involves changing our hearts and our lives and accepting the atonement of Christ. They need to know that God so loves them that “he gave his only begotten Son” (John 3:16), so that they could repent. It is also important that they understand that their restitution would be of little worth without the great sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Fifth, and finally, we must help our children learn that whether or not someone else provides restitution to them when they have been hurt, they should still forgive.

Here again, we are the best example of this, not only through the way that we forgive others but in the way we forgive our children. To point out every time how lovely the flowers would look in the cut crystal vase that Jenny had accidentally broken is not going to teach your children unqualified forgiveness.

In our home, hearts are mended and peace and harmony restored when we make the effort to repent and, when possible, make restitution for our mistakes.

[photo] Photography by Marty Mayo

Robert R. Dunford serves as first counselor in the presidency of the Dayton Ohio Stake. Jill W. Dunford is the Activities Committee chairman in the Centerville Ohio Ward. They are the parents of seven children.