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Forcing children to apologize may do more harm than good

Kid apologize
Medicine   All children viewed the transgressors as feeling worse after the apology

Parents who force unremorseful kids to apologize to others before they're truly sorry may do more harm than good, a study of the University of Michigan (UM) showed.


As the main point of an apology, to express remorse and repair relationships, is lost in an insincere apology, it may make children dislike the apologizer even more, according to the study.

UM researchers looked at how children aged 4-9 viewed three types of apology scenarios among peers: unprompted apologies, prompted but willingly given apologies, and coerced apologies.

They found that kids viewed willing apologies the same, whether prompted or unprompted by adults. But the coerced apologies weren't seen as effective, especially by the 7-to-9-year-olds.

All children viewed the transgressors as feeling worse after the apology than before, but the 7-to-9-year-old children thought the coerced apologizers' bad feelings were rooted in self-interest, say concern about punishment, rather than remorse.

And, children of all ages thought the victims felt better after receiving a willing apology, but they saw the recipient of the forced apology as feeling worse than the recipients of the willing apologies.

"Coercing your child to apologize is going to backfire. Other kids don't view that apologizer as likable," said study author Craig Smith, research investigator at the UM Center for Human Growth and Development.

"When your child is calm, help them see how the other person is feeling, and why," said Smith. "An apology is one way to do it, but there are lots of ways. Research shows that even preschoolers value it when a wrongdoer makes amends with action. Sometimes this is more powerful than words."

The study was published online in the November edition of Merrill-Palmer Quarterly.

 

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