Skip to main content

Characterizing Maternal Apology Attitudes and Behaviors

Abstract

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.

Highlights

  • 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.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

References

  1. Baumrind, D., Larzelere, R. E., & Owens, E. B. (2010). Effects of preschool parents’ power assertive patterns and practices on adolescent development. Parenting: Science and Practice, 10(3), 157–201. https://doi.org/10.1080/15295190903290790.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Blatz, C. W., Schumann, K., & Ross, M. (2009). Government apologies for historical injustices. Political Psychology, 30(2), 219–241. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9221.2008.00689.x.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Bornstein, M. H. (2012). Cultural approaches to parenting. Parenting, 12, 212–221. https://doi.org/10.1080/15295192.2012.683359.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  4. Bridgett, D. J., Burt, N. M., Edwards, E. S., & Deater-Deckard, K. (2015). Intergenerational transmission of self-regulation: A multidisciplinary review and integrative conceptual framework. Psychological Bulletin, 141(3), 602–654. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0038662.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  5. Buttelmann, F., & Karbach, J. (2017). Development and plasticity of cognitive flexibility in early and middle childhood. Frontiers in Psychology, 8, 1040 https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01040.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  6. Castro, J., de Pablo, J., Gómez, J., Arrindell, W. A., & Toro, J. (1997). Assessing rearing behaviour from the perspective of the parents: a new form of the EMBU. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 32(4), 230–235. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00788243.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  7. Cook, B. G., & Rumrill, Jr, P. D. (2005). Using and interpreting analogue designs. Work, 24(1), 93–97.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  8. Darby, B. W. & Schlenker, B. R. (1982). Children’s reactions to apologies. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 43(4), 742–753. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.43.4.742.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. De Paúl, J., Asla, N., Perez-Albeniz, A., & De Cádiz, B. T. G. (2006). Impact of stress and mitigating information on evaluations, attributions, affect, disciplinary choices, and expectations of compliance in mothers at high and low risk for child physical abuse. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 21, 1018–1045. 10.1177/0886260506290411.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Deater-Deckard, K. (1998). Parenting stress and child adjustment: Some old hypotheses and new questions. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 5, 314–332. 10/1111/j.1468-2850.1998.tb00152.x.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Dunlop, P. D., Lee, K., Ashton, M. C., Butcher, S. B., & Dykstra, A. (2015). Please accept my sincere and humble apologies: The HEXACO model of personality and the proclivity to apologize. Personality and Individual Differences, 79, 140–145. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2015.02.004.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Ebesu Hubbard, A. S., Hendrickson, B., Fehrenbach, K. S., & Sur, J. (2013). Effects of timing and sincerity of an apology on satisfaction and changes in negative feelings during conflicts. Western Journal of Communication, 77(3), 305–322. https://doi.org/10.1080/10570314.2013.770160.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Eisenberg, N., Cumberland, A., & Spinrad, T. L. (1998). Parental socialization of emotion. Psychological Inquiry, 9(4), 241–273. https://doi.org/10.1207/s15327965pli0904_1.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  14. Fazio, R. H., & Olson, M. A. (2003). Implicit measures in social cognition research: Their meaning and use. Annual Review of Psychology, 54, 297–327. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.psych.54.101601.145225.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  15. Fehr, R., & Gelfand, M. J. (2010). When apologies work: How matching apology components to victims’ self-construals facilitates forgiveness. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 113(1), 37–50. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.obhdp.2010.04.002.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Frantz, C. M., & Bennigson, C. (2005). Better late than early: The influence of timing on apology effectiveness. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 41(2), 201–207. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jesp.2004.07.007.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Gottman, J. M., & DeClaire, J. (1997). The heart of parenting: How to raise an emotionally intelligent child. Simon & Schuste.

  18. Grose, J. (2021, March 10). How to apologize to your kids. New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/10/parenting/yell-kids-apologize.html

  19. Guan, X., Park, H. S., & Lee, H. E. (2009). Cross-cultural differences in apology. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 33(1), 32–45. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijintrel.2008.10.001.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Harach, L. D., & Kuczynski, L. J. (2005). Construction and maintenance of parent-child relationships: Bidirectional contributions from the perspective of parents. Infant and Child Development, 14(4), 327–343. https://doi.org/10.1002/icd.393.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Harrist, A. W., & Waugh, R. M. (2002). Dyadic synchrony: Its structure and function in children’s development. Developmental Review, 22(4), 555–592. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0273-2297(02)00500-2.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Honaker, J., King, G., & Blackwell, M. (2011). Amelia II: A program for missing data. Retrieved from http://www.jstatsoft.org/v45/i07/

  23. Howell, A. J., Dopko, R. L., Turowski, J. B., & Buro, K. (2011). The disposition to apologize. Personality and Individual Differences, 51(4), 509–514. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2011.05.009.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Howell, A., Turowski, J., & Buro, K. (2012). Guilt, empathy, and apology. Personality and Individual Differences, 53, 917–922. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2012.06.021.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Hsieh, H. F., & Shannon, S. E. (2005). Three approaches to qualitative content analysis. Qualitative Health Research, 15(9), 1277–1288. https://doi.org/10.1177/1049732305276687.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  26. Kaminski, J. W., Valle, L. A., Filene, J. H., & Boyle, C. L. (2008). A meta-analytic review of components associated with parent training program effectiveness. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 36(4), 567–589. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10802-007-9201-9.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  27. Kemp, C. J., Lunkenheimer, E., Albrecht, E. C., & Chen, D. (2016). Can we fix this? Parent-child repair processes and preschoolers’ regulatory skills. Family Relations, 65(4), 576–590. https://doi.org/10.1111/fare.12213.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  28. Koehn, A. J., & Kerns, K. A. (2018). Parent-child attachment: Meta-analysis of associations with parenting behaviors in middle childhood and adolescence. Attachment & Human Development, 20(4), 378–405. https://doi.org/10.1080/14616734.2017.1408131.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Krippendorff, K. (2018). Content analysis: An introduction to its methodology. Sage publications.

  30. Lazare, A. (2004). On apology. Oxford University Press.

  31. Leijten, P., Gardner, F., Melendez-Torres, G. J., van Aar, J., Hutchings, J., Schulz, S., Knerr, W., & Overbeek, G. (2019). Meta-analyses: Key parenting program components for disruptive child behavior. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 58(2), 180–190. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaac.2018.07.900.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  32. Lerner, H. (2017). Why won’t you apologize? Healing big betrayals and everyday hurts. Simon and Schuster.

  33. Lewicki, R. J., & Polin, B. (2012). The art of the apology: The structure and effectiveness of apologies in trust repair. In R. Kramer & T. Pittinsky (Eds.), Restoring trust: Challenges and prospects (pp. 95–128). Oxford University Press.

  34. Lewicki, R. J., Polin, B., & Lount, Jr, R. B. (2016). An exploration of the structure of effective apologies. Negotiation and Conflict Management Research, 9(2), 177–196. https://doi.org/10.1111/ncmr.12073.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Masten, A. S., & Shaffer, A. (2006). How families matter in child development: Reflections from research on risk and resilience. In A. Clarke-Stewart & J. Dunn (Eds.), The Jacobs Foundation series on adolescence. Families count: Effects on child and adolescent development (p. 5–25). Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511616259.002

  36. McDowell, D. J., Kim, M., O’Neil, R., & Parke, R. D. (2002). Children’s emotional regulation and social competence in middle childhood. Marriage & Family Review, 34(3-4), 345–364. https://doi.org/10.1300/J002v34n03_07.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. Miller, G. (2018, April 16). Should parents apologize to their kids? Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2018/04/16/should-parents-apologize-to-their-kids-and-if-so-whats-the-best-way-to-do-it/

  38. Molinsky, A. (2016, November 25). The 4 types of ineffective apologies. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2016/11/the-4-types-of-ineffective-apologies

  39. Newman, L., & Kraynack, L. (2013). The ambiguity of a transgression and the type of apology influence immediate reactions. Social Behavior and Personality, 4(1), 31–46. https://doi.org/10.2224/sbp.2013.41.1.31.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. R Core Team. (2018). R: A language and environment for statistical computing. Retrieved from https://www.R-project.org/

  41. Ruckstaetter, J., Sells, J., Newmeyer, M. D., & Zink, D. (2017). Parental apologies, empathy, shame, guilt, and attachment: A path analysis. Journal of Counseling & Development, 95(4), 89–400. https://doi.org/10.1002/jcad.12154.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. Scher, S. J., & Darley, J. M. (1997). How effective are the things people say to apologize? Effects of the realization of the apology speech act. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 26(1), 127–140. https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1025068306386.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Schmitt, M., Gollwitzer, M., Förster, N., & Montada, L. (2004). Effects of objective and subjective account components on forgiving. The Journal of Social Psychology, 144(5), 465–486. https://doi.org/10.3200/SOCP.144.5.465-486.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  44. Shoikhedbrod, A., Struthers, C. W., Guilfoyle, J. R., van Monsjou, E., Halilova, J., & Saleemi, S. (2019). How, when, and why transgressors’ narcissism affects motivation to apologize (or not). Journal of Research in Personality, 78, 36–51. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jrp.2018.11.003.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. Siegel, D. J., & Hartzell, M. (2013). Parenting from the inside out: How a deeper self-understanding can help you raise children who thrive. Penguin.

  46. Skowron, E. A., Kozlowski, J. M., & Pincus, A. L. (2010). Differentiation, self-other representations, and rupture-repair processes: Predicting child maltreatment risk. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 57(3), 304–316. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0020030.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  47. Shih, T. H., & Fan, X. (2009). Comparing response rates in e-mail and paper surveys: A meta-analysis. Educational Research Review, 4(1), 26–40. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.edurev.2008.01.003.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  48. Smith, C. E., Chen, D., & Harris, P. L. (2010). When the happy victimizer says sorry: Children’s understanding of apology and emotion. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 28(4), 727–746. https://doi.org/10.1348/026151009x475343.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  49. Smith, C., & Harris, P. (2011). He didn’t want me to feel sad: Children’s reactions to disappointment and apology. Social Development, 21(2), 215–228. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9507.2011.00606.x.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  50. Sroufe, A. L. (2000). Early relationships and the development of children. Infant Mental Health Journal, 21(1-2), 67–74. 10.1002/(SICI)1097-0355(200001/04)21:1/2<67::AID-IMHJ8>3.0.CO;2-2.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  51. Sugimoto, N. (1997). A Japan-US comparison of apology styles. Communication Research, 24(4), 349–369. https://doi.org/10.1177/009365097024004002.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  52. U.S. Census Bureau (2019). QuickFacts: Lane County, OR. https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/lanecountyoregon/POP060210

  53. Wade, N. G., Hoyt, W. T., Kidwell, J. E., & Worthington, Jr, E. L. (2014). Efficacy of psychotherapeutic interventions to promote forgiveness: A meta-analysis. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 82(1), 154–170. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0035268.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  54. Wickham, H. (2017). tidyverse: Easily install and load the “tidyverse” (Version 1.2.1). Retrieved from https://CRAN.R-project.org/package=tidyverse

  55. You, Y., Yang, X., Wang, L., & Deng, X. (2020). When and why saying “thank you” is better than saying “sorry” in redressing service failures: The role of self-esteem. Journal of Marketing, 84(2), 133–150. https://doi.org/10.1177/0022242919889894.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Funding

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.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Maureen Zalewski.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare no competing interests.

Ethics Approval

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

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Additional information

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

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). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-021-02031-0

Download citation

Keywords

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