But the second and bigger issue for me (and Mike) is that she is exhibiting what I call sorry girl behavior. Women tend to internalize "sorry" to the point that we spout it out like second nature. "Sorry" is an extension of the lessons society teaches women to not take up too much space, to not speak our minds, and to not exert our authority. Absent-mindedly communicating "sorry" as a polite way to express sympathy with another person's misfortune means that women find ourselves perpetually in a pitiable state. That's not a good thing.
I want to raise a polite child so that she grows up to be a polite adult. There is too much uncivil behavior in the world, which inevitably leads to too many desires to punch other people in the face. But there's a difference between being empathetic and polite and being a sorry sack of apologies. Teaching the subtleties of being nice without falling into the trope of raising a "nice girl" ain't easy.
Here's our current strategy: the only reason to say "I'm sorry" is in response to causing actual damage or harm to another person or their property.
If the kiddo stomps on my toe (i.e., hurts me) because she's not paying attention to the world around her, "I'm sorry" is an appropriate response. If she spills milk on my book (i.e., damages my property), she can apologize away. If we tell her to go upstairs and she doesn't, that's not a cause for sorrow. The better response is merely "ok," and then to follow instructions. Ditto for not turning off the TV after PAW Patrol ends, for leaving her toys cluttered on the coffee table, for being slow to brush her teeth at night. Those are personal responsibility issues, not circumstances of sympathy with another's distress.
A big part of the reason why this concept is so hard to teach is not really the abstract nature of sympathy, but rather because I am GUILTY AS CHARGED. I say "I'm sorry" for everything. A few minutes ago, I inadvertently apologized because the internet is sluggish today. If someone tells me they got hung up at the DMV, I'll usually say I'm sorry. But the kicker is that I'm not - I'm not sorry. I am deferring to a filler word because I'm too lazy to come up with the right ones. For the internet situation, I should say, "Please hang on a second - the internet is slow today." Those words acknowledge not only the inconvenience of waiting, but also the fact that I'm not actually the one clogging up the intertubes. For the DMV convo, I should say, "Ugh - that's frustrating. I hope that they were able to help you without too much of a wait." That statement identifies and sympathizes with the other person's discomfort in a much more meaningful and precise way.
I doubt that our current parenting strategy is the be all and end all of sorry girl language elimination. We'll see after I try to live by the rule myself. I'm hoping that at the very least we'll recoup benefits from being conscious of our language choices (communication FTW!). I know that the kiddo models her behavior to some degree after what she sees me do. She needs to hear me say "I'm sorry" less, and I'm going to do my best to use better language that doesn't short-circuit my prerogative to move about the world unburdened with sorrow. And if I mess up, I won't be sorry about it. I'll simply resolve to do better, and move on.