Nurturing Empathy: The Complexity of Making Kids Apologise

Nurturing Empathy:

The Complexity of Making Kids Apologise

The debate over whether or not to make kids apologise when they hurt someone else is an intricate one, encompassing various aspects of human development, social learning, and the complexities of genuine empathy. The discussion revolves around the role of nature versus nurture, the significance of genuine apologies, and the potential impact of parental role modeling. This post aims to explore the multifaceted nature of this topic by considering both sides of the argument, drawing from peer-reviewed academic research, and acknowledging the various factors that influence a child's ability to apologise sincerely.

Nature vs. Nurture: The Interplay of Genetics and Environment

At the heart of the debate lies the question of nature versus nurture. Are individuals born with an inherent capacity for empathy, or is it cultivated through social interactions and upbringing? While some studies suggest that empathy has a genetic basis (1), other research emphasises the crucial role of environmental factors in developing empathy (2). This suggests that both genetic predisposition and environmental influences, such as parenting styles and social experiences, play a role in a child's ability to apologise sincerely.

The Importance of Genuine Apologies

Central to the argument against forcing children to apologise is the belief that genuine apologies are more valuable and effective in fostering empathy and emotional intelligence. Research has shown that sincere apologies are more likely to lead to forgiveness and reconciliation (3). When children are genuinely remorseful, it allows them to understand the impact of their actions on others, contributing to the development of empathy and interpersonal skills.

Role Modeling: Learning Through Observation

Children learn through observation and imitation of their parents and caregivers. If parents consistently model appropriate and sincere apologies, children are more likely to understand the significance of taking responsibility for their actions (4). On the other hand, if adults fail to apologise or dismiss the importance of apologising when they are in the wrong, children may perceive apologies as unnecessary or insincere.

The Challenge of Inadequate Apologies

One aspect that supports the notion of guiding children through the apology process is the observation that many adults struggle with apologising properly. Some studies indicate that adults often offer conditional or non-apologies, which do not take full responsibility for their actions (5). Thus, expecting children to learn to apologise genuinely on their own might not always be effective when they lack proper role models.

Individual Differences: Tailoring Apology Approaches

Children are unique individuals with different temperaments, emotional development, and abilities to empathise. Some children might require more guidance and coaching to learn how to apologise properly, considering their distinct personalities and learning styles (6). In such cases, gentle coaching and understanding from adults may help them develop the skills needed for sincere apologies.

The Impact on the Hurt Child

Another critical perspective to consider is the emotional well-being of the child who was hurt. When children are hurt or wronged, they may experience feelings of sadness, anger, or betrayal. Receiving a genuine apology can validate their emotions and facilitate emotional healing (7). However, being forced into an apology that lacks sincerity can compound the hurt, leading to feelings of dismissal or resentment.


The question of whether to make kids apologise when they hurt someone else is far from a black-and-white issue. It involves a delicate balance between promoting genuine empathy, considering individual differences, and acknowledging the complexity of human behaviour. The interplay of nature and nurture influences a child's ability to empathise and apologise, and the presence of positive role models can significantly impact their development. While gentle coaching may be necessary for some children to understand the importance of sincere apologies, forcing an insincere apology risks undermining the value of genuine remorse. Ultimately, the goal should be to foster empathy in children, understanding that each child's journey towards genuine apologies will be unique.



  1. Decety, J., & Cowell, J. M. (2014). Friends or Foes: Is Empathy Necessary for Moral Behavior? Perspectives on Psychological Science, 9(5), 525–537.
  2. Eisenberg, N., & Eggum, N. D. (2009). Empathic Responding: Sympathy and Personal Distress. In J. Decety & W. Ickes (Eds.), The Social Neuroscience of Empathy (pp. 71–83). MIT Press.
  3. McCullough, M. E., Worthington, E. L., & Rachal, K. C. (1997). Interpersonal forgiving in close relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73(2), 321–336.
  4. Brown, C. M., & Treviño, L. K. (2006). Ethical leadership: A review and future directions. The Leadership Quarterly, 17(6), 595–616.
  5. Schumann, K., & Ross, M. (2010). Why Women Apologize More Than Men: Gender Differences in Thresholds for Perceiving Offensive Behavior. Psychological Science, 21(11), 1649–1655.
  6. Ziv, Y. (2013). The Fine Line between Guiding and Imposing: A Comprehensive Look at the Positive Consequences of Conditional Parenting. Educational Psychology Review, 25(4), 419–437.
  7. Lazarus, R. S. (2006). Emotions and interpersonal relationships: toward a person-centered conceptualization of emotions and coping. Journal of Personality, 74(1), 9–46.

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