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How to Apologize: a Cartoon Story and Book to Teach It

Do you know any children (or maybe even adults) who need a little help learning what to do when they mess up or break something? Want an interactive lesson on how to apologize? Read on for this fun short story — illustrated with cartoons!

As background, my name is Lillie, and I’m an English teacher, artist, and the mother of two young children. This story may or may not have been inspired by a real incident with my son — and I use the book version of the tale to help my kids review what to do after they’ve messed up, and how to apologize well. Ready? Let’s read!

Child breaking a sculpture cartoon
Moe accidentally broke a sculpture. What now?

The Mess-Up: A Break in the Snake

Once there was a young boy named Moe who liked playing with anything he found, pretending to make it zip through the air. One day he was zipping around with his Daddy’s bright green snake sculpture — when the sculpture slipped from his hand and SMASHED upon the ground! What should Moe do next???

Child deciding what to do after messing up: lie and hide or tell the truth and help?
Moe didn’t know whether to lie and hide, or tell and help clean up.

What to Do After Breaking Something?

Moe’s eyes became huge and round as he pondered the quandary: Should he tell his parents about the snake break, or could he just hide the broken pieces and pretend nothing happened? He stood frozen in a liminal space between the two options for several minutes before making his decision.

Moe wrapped the snake parts in a purple blanket and ran out of the room. It seemed like the easiest and fastest option to him. Do YOU think this is the best choice in this dilemma of what to do? What do you think will happen next?

Cartoon of parent finding broken sculpture that kid tried to hide.
Moe’s father soon found the broken sculpture.

Daddy Discovers the Snake Break

Moe was “innocently” sitting in his room when he heard a holler. “ARGH!” It was his father, who had just found the shattered sculpture under the blanket. “Moe,” his Daddy asked, “did you break my snake then HIDE it?!”

With a gulp, Moe thought hard about what to do next. Just then his Mama walked in and realized the situation. “Sheesh,” she said, seeing Moe huddled in the corner. “Just say sorry and help clean up!”

Cartoon mother gives advice on what a child should do after messing up, but child says no and has tantrum.
Moe’s Mama gives good advice.

Mama Explains What to Do After Messing Up

As Mama’s wise words filled the air, Moe’s heart pounded. “CLEAN UP?!” he exclaimed, “That will take SO LONG! Yargh!”

Moe’s mother sighed: “No tantrum needed, my dear.” But it was too late. Moe’s mouth was as wide as a melon as he screamed, “WAAAAH! NO! Cleaning up will take TOO MANY HOURS.”

Moe’s Mama, a mathematician, walked over to the desk and picked up a sheet of paper and some markers. “Let me show you something amazing — something awe-inspiring,” she said with a magical tone in her voice. Moe trotted to her suspiciously, dripping tears like a fish drips water as it pops out of the ocean.

Chart of how long it takes a child to lie and hide and tantrum versus say sorry and help fix after messing up.
Mama’s time chart of the choice after messing up.

How Long Does it Take to Say Sorry and Fix?

“Let’s count how many minutes your options all take,” said Moe’s Mama. “If you lie and hide, then tantrum when found out, that takes a total of…” she began making tally marks while Moe counted by fives, “almost SIXTY MINUTES. Pretty much a whole HOUR!”

Moe gasped in surprise, but realized it was true. Hiding the snake had taken ten minutes, then hiding himself in his room was thirty. Now his tantrum had already sucked up fifteen minutes, and would likely go on much longer if allowed to progress. “What’s that on the right side of the paper?” he asked his Mama, eager for another option.

Moe’s Mama read from the top right corner: “The minutes it takes to say sorry and help fix equals…” she made quick tally marks while Moe counted along: “One, two, three, four, FIVE!” Moe clapped his hand to his cheek in shock. “See?” said his mother, pointing to the two juxtaposed options, “it’s FAST to fix the mess-up if you do it right.”

A good apology helps fix the damage
Moe made his mess-up right!

It Can Be Quick and Easy to Apologize

Now that he had seen the full context of his options, Moe knew what to do. He gave his father a big hug, said “SORRY!” and asked, “Daddy, how can I help fix my mistake?”

His father replied, “I forgive you, my little man, but I need you to help glue back together the snake sculpture pieces. Your Mama gave the snake to me many years ago, and it makes me sad to see such a special sculpture shattered.”

I didn’t mean to make you feel sad,” Moe said, kissing his Daddy’s cheek.

“Thank you for saying that,” said Moe’s father. “It’s a very important part of an apology to understand the feelings of the people you hurt when you messed up, then show you care about them.”

Moe and his Daddy worked together to mend the slithery green figurine. Yes, it took some real focus… but was done in just four minutes. Four minutes plus the one minute apology equals: FIVE minutes. So quick!

Video: Cartoon Apology Story

See the video of how I made these drawings.

That’s Not How to Apologize Yet…

Later at dinner that night, Moe’s Daddy explained the last element needed to apologize effectively. “Moe-Moe,” said Moe’s father, using his favorite way of saying his son’s name, “It’s so important that you said sorry, listened well about my hurt feelings, and helped me fix the snake break… but there is one more thing that is important to do when you mess up, in order to make things right.”

“What is it?” asked Moe, intrigued, as he crunched his carrots. What do YOU think the last part of a good apology is?

A Story to Teach Kids How to Apologize in Cartoons
On Pinterest? Pin this to save and share this story!

A Good Apology Needs a Future Plan

“The last part of a complete apology,” explained Moe’s father, “is to create a plan to try not to make the same mistake again in the future!”

Moe was about to say, “That will take SO LONG,” but then he did a little counting in his head — and realized it would take two minutes to create a plan like his father was describing. Two minutes was how fast it took Moe to eat an ice cream cone. Fiercely fast!

“Ok,” Moe said, “Here’s one plan for how to not break your things in the future… What if I ask permission before I touch things that don’t belong to me before I play with them?”

“Brilliant,” said Moe’s father. “If you ask permission, we could very well say that you CAN play with the item, but we will help you find a creative way to play with it that will keep things safe. For example, if you had played with the snake by zipping it around the rug instead of the air, it probably wouldn’t have broken.” Moe nodded in agreement.

“I’m feeling good about our future plan, Moe,” said Moe’s Daddy, giving his son a loving squeeze, “so we can declare your apology complete. Hooray! We all make mistakes, my little guy, but what matters is that we learn and grow better every time.”

How to Apologize: A Children’s BOOK

Exciting news: There’s now a paperback book version of this story! Here’s the affiliate link to browse and perhaps even buy Snake Break: A Story About How to Apologize, written and illustrated by Lillie Marshall!

What Are YOUR Thoughts on Saying Sorry?

What was a time when you made a mistake and needed to apologize? How did it go? What are your thoughts about apologies now that you’ve read Moe’s story? Do share! If you’re looking for more short stories for kids, click here.


Thursday 3rd of September 2020

Learning how to apologize is such an important life lesson.

Lillie Marshall

Thursday 3rd of September 2020

Yes indeed! My confession is I'm still working on it myself. One problem comes when it's not so clear who's at fault, and if both parties or neither should say sorry!


Wednesday 2nd of September 2020

A good thing to learn young (that not everyone learned)!

Lillie Marshall

Wednesday 2nd of September 2020

The interesting mental leap is going from the tangible (broken sculpture) to the emotional (hurt feelings). Just had a conversation with my son about this today and will keep trying with the teaching!

Michelle Frank | Flipped-Out Food

Tuesday 1st of September 2020

Ah, this gave me a good chuckle. I definitely know some little ones who need to see this story! Great insights here and a thoroughly delightful read.

Lillie Marshall

Tuesday 1st of September 2020

Much appreciated! The most important part for me -- which I created because of a certain real-life situation with my son -- is the chart showing the time it takes to apologize and fix versus tantrum and deny. He's starting to catch on now that we've read this a few times!


Tuesday 1st of September 2020

Wonderful story with enticing drawings. Such an important lesson for children. Every parent who wants their children to be decent human beings needs to read this!

Lillie Marshall

Tuesday 1st of September 2020

Thanks, and YAY for decent, kind, responsible human beings!


Tuesday 1st of September 2020

I can think of a couple adults who could use a lesson on apologizing too lol

Lillie Marshall

Tuesday 1st of September 2020

True story! It's human nature, old and young, to resist it, eh? And yet it makes things so much better to just say sorry and fix...