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Apologizing Helps Adults Repair Relationship with Young Kids

Apologizing Helps Adults Repair Relationship with Young Kids

New research finds that apologies go a long way toward improving adult-child relationships even when the children are young.

Most adults understand the value of a quick apology for a minor transgression as it helps to maintain social harmony. As an example, a simple “I am sorry” relieves tension after someone accidentally bumps into another person. The bumped-into person feels better, and so does the person who did the bumping. It’s all part of the social norm.

Researchers wanted to know if apologies have a similar effect on children.

University of Virginia (UVA) investigators found that apologies are important even to children who are six or seven years old, an age when they are undergoing dramatic and important changes in cognitive development.

This age is particularly important in childhood as kids are moving from their preschool years to middle childhood and are building social skill foundations that will last a lifetime.

“What was surprising was that children who experienced a minor transgression and heard an apology felt just as bad as those who did not hear an apology,” said Marissa Drell, a Ph.D. candidate in psychology at UVA and the study’s lead author.

“But those who heard the transgressor say, ‘I’m sorry’ actually shared more with that person later. The apology repaired the relationship even though it did not mitigate their hurt feelings.”

Drell set up a situation where children were the victims of a minor accident. The children and an adult research assistant were asked to build towers out of plastic cups.

As the child neared completion of his or her tower, the adult asked to borrow a cup from the child, and in so doing toppled the child’s tower. She either apologized or said nothing, and then left the room.

Later, when children were asked how they felt, those who received an apology reported feeling just as bad as those who did not. But when deciding how many stickers to give to the research assistant, those who heard an apology were more generous.

“Even though an apology didn’t make children feel better, it did help to facilitate forgiveness,” Drell said.

“They seem to have recognized it as a signal that the transgressor felt bad about what she had done and may have been implicitly promising not to do it again.”

There was one form of amends that resulted in an even better outcome: Children who had their towers knocked over and then received the transgressor’s help in partially rebuilding it both felt better and shared more with her.

“Restitution — some sort of active effort to make repairs after a transgression — can make the victim feel better because it may undo some of the harm, and it can repair the relationship by showing the transgressor’s commitment to it,” Drell said.

The paper appears in the journal Social Development.

Source: University of Virginia/EurekAlert

 
Forgiving child photo by shutterstock.

Apologizing Helps Adults Repair Relationship with Young Kids

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2015). Apologizing Helps Adults Repair Relationship with Young Kids. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 24, 2018, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2015/11/12/apologizing-helps-adults-build-relationship-with-young-kids/94751.html

 

Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 12 Nov 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 12 Nov 2015
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.