By: Stephanie Shabangu, Penfield Children’s Center
Reviewed by: Heather Rotolo, LCSW, Clinical Director of the Behavior Clinic, Penfield Children’s Center
With all the stressors of life, it can be difficult to find time to forgive, especially if feelings of anger, resentment and sorrow have started to overshadow the good memories we have of another person. As adults, we’ve all had to deal with our fair share of others’ wrongdoings and in order to continue to work, live or remain friendly with these people, some of us may decide to choose our battles or confront the person and hope to resolve the conflict. In growing older, we’ve had to learn these tactics, or have most likely dealt with the burden of a grudge that quickly zaps our happiness or tends to fester for too long and cause us anxiety.
Similar to why it’s important for us as adults to practice forgiveness, it is also essential that we teach this skill to our children. From an early age, children can harbor resentment for others because of a variety of reasons. Perhaps a friend at daycare continuously steals toys away or a sibling yelled at him for making a mistake. While it can be difficult to watch or learn that someone has harmed our child or caused him to feel bad, it is important children understand that these sorts of wrongdoings will happen and forgiveness is possible.
Here are some suggestions for teaching children how to forgive:
- Model the act of forgiveness for your child. If your child witnesses someone making you feel bad, consider talking about why you think it’s important you offer forgiveness and how you plan to do it.
- Educate your child on the difference between forgiveness and forgetting. While your child might not ever be able to forget what happened, you can help him understand that holding onto negative feelings will not help the situation and might potentially ruin a good relationship.
- Talk to your child about his feelings towards the situation. Why does he feel this person did something wrong? Does he feel sad, mad or disappointed? This will also help teach your child how to respond when someone apologizes. Allow him to explain his feelings towards an apology by saying something like, “It made me feel sad when you laughed at me after I spilled my milk. I forgive you for laughing, but next time it would make me happy if you helped me instead of laughed because I would do that for you.”
- Ask your child to write a letter or draw a picture of what caused him grief. Getting these thoughts out of his head and on paper can help him process what happened and also give him space to write or draw why forgiving the person is important.
- Help your child analyze the situation that made him feel bad. All people, including children, have a tendency to forget others’ feelings when they are in stressful situations themselves. Was the person who made your child feel sad feeling jealous about not being included or mad about something that happened at home? This stress may have caused the person to lash out at your child, even when he was not involved. This surly does not excuse the other person’s poor behavior, but does offer some insight into what may have caused the negative words or actions in the first place.
It is also important to note that while offering forgiveness certainly doesn’t condone wrongdoing, it does allow your child to move away from the “victim” role, while taking back his own power and moving on. Work with your child to find a way of forgiving that feels comfortable to him and encourage him to make the decision to forgive.
How have you helped your child with forgiveness?