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Forgiveness: Teaching Your Children to Let Go!
Forgiveness can be one of the hardest concepts to explain to a child. That’s no surprise since so many adults struggle with forgiving and moving on in their own lives.
Forgiveness is often seen as a lofty concept, wrapped in deep and complex emotions. When we’re feeling angry, hurt, wronged, self-righteous, undervalued or disrespected it’s hard to let go and open the door to forgiveness. But we can’t begin to talk about forgiveness with our children until we can model it well ourselves.
Learning to forgive is a process. And teaching our children about the power of forgiveness should be a process, as well. We can’t expect to embrace the concept over night. But once we gain awareness about how forgiveness can transform our lives, we know it’s a subject we need to discuss with our children on a continuing basis.
Young children, with their short attention spans, can usually forgive more readily than older ones because they are easily distracted. Consequently they are less likely to hold grudges and live more in the present moment. As children age and their interactions with family and friends get more complex, they experience the challenges of disagreements, being judged and misunderstood. They get into arguments with friends and classmates. They compete with their siblings for parental attention. They get hurt in relationship interactions as they move into and through their teens.
Forgiving the person who did you wrong or wounded your heart is never easy. But we can use our children’s life experiences as opportunities to share with them some valuable insights about why we should all learn to forgive.
The hardest concept to grasp—and the key to understanding the “gift” in forgiveness—is this: forgiving is all about you—not the person being forgiven. We can explain to our children that forgiving lets us feel better inside. It does not mean we agree with or approve of how we were treated. Nor does it mean we will sit by and allow others to hurt us again.
We can talk about our feelings, let others know why we were upset, and then give them another chance. We also have the choice to not trust or be friends with hurtful people. But we don’t want to hold onto the upsetting emotions—because they hurt US!
When children are angry or hurt you can talk to them about what they are feeling in their mind and in their body. Are they experiencing tension? Sadness? Shame? Are they having trouble falling asleep? Have they been getting headaches or other stress signals? Once you identify concrete examples of how they have been affected by their emotions, you can ask if they’re tired of hurting. You can suggest that there is a way to feel better—and they have a choice in the matter. They can forgive and let the bad feelings go.
You can then discuss some of the lessons they may have learned from this painful experience. Might there be better ways of handling a disagreement? Could you have avoided the confrontation? Should you have talked to an adult before taking action? Could you have communicated your feelings or point of view more clearly? Are you smarter or wiser now that you’ve had this experience?
If your child can see valuable lessons learned as a consequence of the painful incident, you can suggest that good things can result from tough times—if we look for the lesson we can learn. Can they see these lessons as benefits they’ve gained that will help them with future challenges?
Sometimes it’s helpful for you to sit down with your child and make a list of things they’ve learned or skills they’ve gained through forgiving. We can call these our “gifts.” Do they feel better about themselves as a smarter, more confident person now? Are they starting to feel more joy and peace in their heart? Do they feel less fearful and more powerful after forgiving?
If your child is feeling guilty or ashamed about some of their behaviors, that’s a good time to talk about the power of forgiving themselves. Tell them you forgive them—and that every human being makes mistakes. Wise people learn from their mistakes and then forgive themselves. Let your children know you love them regardless of whether they make mistakes or not—and will always be there for them. Remind them we’re all human—and that’s just fine!
Forgiving is healing. Share a story or two about a time you chose to forgive someone and how you were positively affected by not having to carry around feelings of anger, pain, sorrow or other wounds from the past.
When we raise children who understand the value of forgiving, we raise happier, healthier children. Through the wisdom of forgiveness, they can move past the hurts and bruises that life will inevitably inflict upon them. They will also be better prepared and more capable of forgiving when it comes to their relationship with YOU!