New research suggests that adults who force unremorseful children to apologise to others before they’re truly sorry may do more harm than good.

By expecting this, the main point of an apology—to express remorse and repair relationships—is lost because children may dislike the child apologising even more after the insincere apology than before. Children know when an apology is flaky and not authentically meant.

Researchers from the University of Michigan looked at whether children distinguish between willingly given and coerced expressions of remorse—and they do! The findings suggest that exploring ways to help children learn to have empathy for the victim, thus ensuring a sincere apology, is more constructive than immediately demanding a reluctant “Sorry.”

Make sure the child understands why the other person feels bad, and make sure the child is really ready to say ‘I’m sorry.’ Then have them apologise. Demanding children to apologise is going to backfire. Other children don’t view that apologiser as likable. The teachable element of having the child apologise has gone away and the goal of the apology prompt—to help the child express remorse, soothe someone else’s hurt feelings and make the child more likable—is lost.

says study author Craig Smith, research investigator at the U-M Center for Human Growth and Development.

Taken from: the Merrill-Palmer Quarterly Journal Volume 64 Issue 2 (2018)

Say You’re Sorry: Children distinguishing between willingly given and coerced expressions of remorse

 Craig Smith, Deborah Anderson, Anna Straussberger

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