Learning to apologize: Moral socialization as an interactional practice in preschool

Björk-Willén, P.
Research on Children and Social Interaction, 2(2):177-194.


The study investigates how children aged 1-4 apologised to each other, and the type of practice the kindergarten teachers had in relation to this. More specifically, this study aimed to analyse how apology situations were presented and interactively achieved, and how children reproduced apologies when playing.


Previous studies have shown that the practice of apologies between adults and children often has different agendas, despite children’s apologies mimicking those of adults. However, this study used an approach that focused on the participants’ perspectives. The analyses showed that apologies in kindergarten have a ritualised framework consisting of (i) clarifying the source of the conflict, (ii) highlighting the moral order, and (iii) verbalising and embodying the apology. The analyses show how the children transform the apology practices into their pretend play, whereby they display moral stances and get support for individual aims. 


Data for this study are retrieved from a large video ethnographic study on children’s morality and emotional socialisation in kindergarten. All data was collected from one kindergarten, and 38 children between the ages of 1 and 4 participated in the study. The data consisted of 68 hours of recordings of everyday activities (mealtimes, reading aloud and free play), with the main focus placed on children’s crying.

The analytical framework was based on an ethnographic method of processing social actions. The analyses focused especially on practices related to apologies and moral order. In this way, extra emphasis was placed on moral work-in-interaction as an ongoing practical activity. Interactions based on how the children and teachers understood each other were analysed. In addition, the study looked at how the children apologised in the situation. The study also focused on how the children’s body language influenced the different outcomes of the apologies. In this context, body language was considered as important as verbal language and was therefore analysed as a separate element.


Björk-Willén, P. (2018). «Learning to apologize: Moral socialization as an interactional practice in preschool». Research on Children and Social Interaction, 2(2):177-194.

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