Teaching Children the Importance of Forgiveness
Kids typically learn about forgiveness and apologizing by the ways they see it modeled in their own lives. This places the responsibility on us as parents to teach how to forgive in an honest way. For children to learn about the importance of forgiveness, they must learn to understand that everyone makes mistakes. And that making mistakes is what we all do and that it is ok.
It’s important for them to understand that most often no one is mean for no reason and it’s important to put this into context. For example, start with something simple like: “Hey, I’m sorry I used a snappy tone with you before; I was really tired and hungry.” Understanding what’s behind people’s feelings will teach empathy and compassion and begin the process of forgiveness.
Self-Forgiveness: A Lesson for the Whole Family
We all can be so hard on ourselves, so it is crucial to forgive ourselves and be light about our own mistakes. If our children see us be compassionate about our blunders, then they will be compassionate against theirs. And if they see us forgive ourselves and others, they will be more apt to do the same.
Model the ability to forgive to your children. This is important because however hard you are on yourself is how hard you will be on your children and then, in turn, how hard they will be on themselves. Show them compassion and empathy for yourself.
Explaining the "Why" Behind Apologies
As parents, we also have to learn to explain arguments and disagreements to our children. This teaches them how to understand why and how things happen. They will learn to understand that disagreements and mistakes are a part of life, why it happens, and why forgiveness is needed.
When apologizing to your child for whatever you may have done, be sure to mean it. A haphazard apology after repeatedly doing something will mean nothing. In turn, they will lose respect for the word “sorry.” Recognize your part, and explain to them that you are aware of what you did wrong. This will teach them not to apologize automatically but to learn the true meaning behind another person’s behavior.
If kids are forced to apologize from a young age without really understanding what they did wrong, they can use it as an automatic response. It’s essential to explain why an apology is necessary for them to understand the essence of forgiveness. This is difficult if parents constantly shout things at them like, “SAY YOU’RE SORRY!!” before they understand why. They’ll learn to apologize without really meaning it, use it to get out of trouble or just to try to stop someone from being upset with them.
Ultimately, if parents’ model healthy apologies and explain their reasoning, kids can learn that the purpose of an apology is to express love and understanding. Suppose we can pause and take a moment to fully understand a situation before rushing to an apology. In that case, we have a great opportunity to learn compassion and empathy for others and ourselves.
Understanding that Forgiveness is a Process
We have to give space for forgiveness to evolve naturally. Even within ourselves, we know that sometimes things take time regardless of the end of the spectrum we are on. But we know – time heals wounds. We should all work hard and get in the trenches to forgive. Yet sometimes, it takes time.
Sometimes a disagreement isn’t over in an instant because people need time to heal their wounds. Even for the person apologizing, sometimes it takes time to understand one’s own actions. It’s best not to rush. If you don’t honor the process, the apology will come out of a place of resentment and resistance, and none will be better for it, and the lesson will have been missed.
As a child, my parents had many arguments. My brother and I never really saw any process of forgiveness. Because of this, we were left fumbling in the dark with a sense of uncertainty and anxiety. We worried about our parents, and also we didn’t learn about how to forgive and let go of resentment.
Silent scorn and vague outcomes in arguments will make children feel fearful and unsafe. It is important to try to resolve the issues that come your way. Commit to forgive rather than to be right. To forgive rather than to hold on. Being right and holding on serves no one.
The Danger of Holding Grudges
If a child is apologizing for a blunder, in turn, forgive them right away. It’s important not to let your kids feel held hostage by you not forgiving them. Try not to stay angry at your children. If they see this, they will see the benefits of letting go and feel the lightness and love of forgiving.
A few months ago, my daughter pulled ahead of my husband and I on a family bike ride. She got so far ahead that we couldn’t see her. I got scared and angry, and when we all got back home, I yelled at her and stormed outside. She came out to the yard and asked for my forgiveness. I said I was sorry, too, and explained my actions. I apologized for yelling at her and explained that I had been scared something might happen to her and that my behavior was uncalled for.
When I apologized for my part in this incident, it allowed my daughter to reflect on her part. It neutralized the situation and allowed us to both gain some perspective. Seeing my part in the problem and explaining it to my daughter helped us understand and forgive one another.
Forgiveness creates a feeling of safety
When we recognize that we’ve done something wrong and give an honest apology, this also provides a feeling of safety for children. Just as important as resolving arguments between parents, apologizing and forgiving your children is crucial. It’s important to explain what is going on and not leave them hanging. If not, they can feel anxious and unsupported.
While it is our job as parents to model healthy forgiveness and apologies to our kids through these various aspects, our children have a lot to teach us about the natural ability to forgive. Children don’t have as much built-up conditioning as adults, so they can forgive with more ease. They are naturally forgiving. To them – subconsciously – LOVE is still ultimately more important than the details.
Remember that Loves Leads the Way
We can learn from each other to forgive and apologize with compassion in our hearts. As long as we lead with love and remember that it’s more important to understand each other than to gain the upper hand, we will be able to teach our kids valuable lessons about forgiveness and healthy relationships.
I’ve let go of many resentments I held against others and myself. It was hard work, and sometimes, I would feel frustrated and wonder, “Why do I forgive them when they did that to me!?” Instead, I discovered that the more you forgive, the more you become aware that it’s the only way. What good is it to hold on? Sometimes I would ask myself,” Who would I be if I let go of this resentment?”
In the end, it’s always easier to forgive than to hold onto resentment. Holding on is physically draining. Coming from a place of love and understanding, life can be a much more joyous journey. Just forgive.