Forgiveness can be a hard thing for adults, let alone kids. Which is even more reason why it is such an important life skill. Bad things are going to happen to us and our children. People will wrong us along this journey of life and holding grudges just weighs us down. So, how do we teach our kids to forgive?
First things first—we need to be the example. It is hard sometimes to think about the fact that our kids are always looking to us for the answers. They use the adults in their life to determine how they should respond to things happening around them. As a parent, we are not perfect. Yes, I know that is hard to hear, but it’s true. We are human and humans are not perfect. So, when we inevitably mess up in front of our kids—hone up to it. Our kids need to see us admit to wrongdoing, they need to see us forgive ourselves and those around us. If your kids make a mistake, tell them “you forgive them.” Make it clear that you are putting the past behind you and moving forward with a clean slate. This will teach your kids to do the same.
Read your children books, tell them stories that involve forgiveness. This is a great way to start building up this concept to young children who often relate more to fictional characters than the real people in their lives. Talk about the stories when you are done reading them, make sure your child understands the point and why forgiveness is important.
Talk to your children about generosity, worth, kindness, respect, and love. These concepts go hand-in-hand with forgiveness. As your child starts to empathize with others and see the beauty and strengths of other people, forgiveness becomes easier. When we forgive we are loving others who likely didn’t show us the same love when they wronged us. We are showing respect to those who are not respecting us back. We are being the bigger person, at least in the moment.
It is important to explain to children that forgiveness doesn’t mean an automatic reconciliation. It doesn’t mean that the action simply disappears. But it does mean that we can move forward. Make it clear to your child that if they are repeatedly wronged by the same person, it is ok to separate. They can forgive, by not holding a grudge, but that doesn’t mean they have to be submissive. They don’t have to put themselves in toxic situations. They can stand up for themselves. They should. They can establish boundaries.
Just like sharing, the concept of forgiveness takes time. It takes repeated effort. The best thing you can do as a parent is to forgive your kids, forgive yourself, and talk to your kids about these things. Be there and provide your kids with a safe place to come and share if they don’t know how to proceed.