Evidence That It Works
In a study, children who were six and seven years old built towers, which were knocked down by a college student who was playing alongside them. The children received one of four responses: a spontaneous apology, an apology after prompting, no apology, or an offer of restitution. While apologies or restitution led children to share more with the student compared to no apology, an offer of restitution was the only response that actually made kids feel better.
Why Does It Matter?
Apologies alone can work to repair relationships by rebuilding trust. However, not all apologies are created equal; the most effective ones include reparations in order to alleviate the hurt a person caused. Reparations help communicate remorse and, as children get older, they are more forgiving of others who show remorse while apologizing. Reparations also help create new positive interactions between the individuals involved and can help them return to a cooperative relationship.
When kids offer restitution to someone they wronged, they are also taking steps to ease that person’s hurt feelings. As children get older, they begin to see coerced apologies (when, for example, a parent tells another child to apologize to them) as inauthentic. As a result, offering reparations is not only kinder but also more likely to be well-received.
Parents can help children understand the power of making amends in fostering forgiveness and stronger social ties. Because conflict will inevitably arise with others, making amends is a valuable relationship skill.