Forcing your kids to apologize can make them less 'likable.' Here's why.

Maybe you both need a time-out.

  • A new study finds that making children apologize can make things worse.
  • When kids say fake "sorry" their victims dislike them even more.
  • Children respond most positively when regret is sincere.

"You did what? You apologize right now!

That may be the sound of a grownup making a mistake. According to new research published by the University of Michigan this year, forcing a child to apologize when they don't mean it usually does more harm than good.

"Coercing your child to apologize is going to backfire," says the study's author, Craig Smith, of the university's Center for Human Growth and Development. "Other kids don't view that apologizer as likable. The teachable element of having the child apologize has gone away and the goal of the apology prompt — to help your child express remorse, soothe someone else's hurt feelings and make your child more likable — is lost."

Ask a child

Photo credit: Alexy Trener via Shutterstock

The study asked children between the ages of 4 and 9 for their reactions to three types of apologies:

  • unprompted genuine apologies
  • prompted genuine apologies
  • coerced apologies

Tallying up the kids' responses, they found that all of the children — the 7 to 9-year-olds especially — felt worse with the apologizer after receiving a coerced apology, viewing them as not-nice people. The subjects did, however, appreciate sincere apologies, whether or not they were prompted.

Kids also picked up that the transgressor felt worse about themselves after being forced to say "sorry" — do they feel bad about their original action or about being forced to apologize? The older children felt that the forced apologizers were more concerned with themselves than with their victims, worrying about punishment and their own concerns rather than feeling regret for making their victims feel hurt.

A slower, more productive approach

Photo credit: Anastasiya Shylina via Shutterstock

Smith says that a more effective approach is to first encourage empathy for the victim of a misdeed:

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 apologize.

It may be best to take a personal timeout before correcting the transgressor, letting the conflict cool down a bit for you both. "When your child is calm, help them see how the other person is feeling, and why. 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."

We should note that this isn't to say there's no value to a coerced apology, especially in situations where there's little opportunity for full conflict resolution, such as during a busy school recess. Elementary school principal Anders Hill notes that, "Even if the person is less than sincere, it is important for the person wronged: It lets them know that adults took them seriously and helps model the restorative practice."

Otherwise, where there's a chance for converting a misdeed to an opportunity for learning, the study is clear: Building empathy is likely to be a better investment of everyone's time.

In 1999, David Bowie knew the internet would change the world

Musican. Actor. Fashion Icon. Internet Visionary?

Technology & Innovation
  • David Bowie was well known as a rock star, but somehow his other interests and accomplishments remain obscure.
  • In this 1999 interview, he explains why he knows the internet is more than just a tool and why it was destined to change the world.
  • He launched his own internet service provider in 1998, BowieNet. It ceased operations in 2006.
Keep reading Show less

People who constantly complain are harmful to your health

Moans, groans, and gripes release stress hormones in the brain.

Photo credit: Getty Images / Stringer
popular

Could you give up complaining for a whole month? That's the crux of this interesting piece by Jessica Hullinger over at Fast Company. Hullinger explores the reasons why humans are so predisposed to griping and why, despite these predispositions, we should all try to complain less. As for no complaining for a month, that was the goal for people enrolled in the Complaint Restraint project.

Participants sought to go the entirety of February without so much as a moan, groan, or bellyache.

Keep reading Show less

​Is science synonymous with 'truth'? Game theory says, 'not always.'

Good science is sometimes trumped by the craving for a "big splash."

Videos
  • Scientists strive to earn credit from their peers, for grants from federal agencies, and so a lot of the decisions that they make are strategic in nature. They're encouraged to publish exciting new findings that demonstrate some new phenomenon that we have never seen before.
  • This professional pressure can affect their decision-making — to get acclaim they may actually make science worse. That is, a scientist might commit fraud if he thinks he can get away with it or a scientist might rush a result out of the door even though it hasn't been completely verified in order to beat the competition.
  • On top of the acclaim of their peers, scientists — with the increasing popularity of science journalism — are starting to be rewarded for doing things that the public is interested in. The good side of this is that the research is more likely to have a public impact, rather than be esoteric. The bad side? To make a "big splash" a scientist may push a study or article that doesn't exemplify good science.