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Characterizing Maternal Apology Attitudes and Behaviors


Parenting is a stressful and difficult endeavor, and even the most skillful parents are apt to make mistakes that warrant an apology to their child. However, little is known regarding parents’ overall willingness to apologize to their child or the content of parental apologies when provided. Informed by research on apology outside the parenting context, the current exploratory study aimed to characterize maternal apology attitudes and behavior. A sample of mothers (N = 186) was recruited from the community, and they self-reported their proclivity to apologize to their child, as well as their proclivity to apologize generally. Mothers were also asked to model a skillful parental apology through an open-ended text response to a vignette, and these responses were coded for the presence of effective apology components. Mothers reported a high proclivity to apologize to their child, and this was associated with their willingness to apologize generally. However, the majority of mothers’ written apologies included few of the elements recommended for effective apologies. Similar to other literature on apology, this finding suggests that although mothers may be willing to apologize when needed, knowing and implementing an effective apology is challenging.


  • Mothers report frequently apologizing to their children after making parenting mistakes.

  • When asked to craft an effective parental apology in response to a hypothetical vignette, mothers used an average of two of five critical apology components in their responses.

  • Mothers’ self-reported apology proclivity was modestly related to their use of effective apology components in written responses.

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No funding was obtained for this project. Funding for participant payments was supported by the faculty start-up fund of the Science and Treatment of Affect Regulation Team (START Lab; PI: Maureen Zalewski, Ph.D.) at the University of Oregon.

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Correspondence to Maureen Zalewski.

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This study was approved by the University of Oregon Committee for the Protection of Human Subjects (Institutional Review Board)

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Adams-Clark, A.A., Lee, A.H., Martin, C.G. et al. Characterizing Maternal Apology Attitudes and Behaviors. J Child Fam Stud 30, 2379–2391 (2021).

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  • Apology
  • Parenting
  • Mother–child relationship
  • Repair
  • Parent training