On Mondays here at The Motherhood Blog, we choose a different family value and we talk about ways we can focus on and grow it in our families over the week ahead. This week we’re talking about forgiveness.
I’ve put together three things I think are important for us to remember when we’re teaching our kids about forgiveness. So the first thing we want to keep in mind is:
- We should allow our kids to feel their feelings, before they’re ready to forgive.
Forgiveness is such a power tool. Forgiveness really has so much more to do with the forgiver, the person forgiving, than the person being forgiven. Forgiveness is a gift, and it’s a gift we really give to ourselves. It is about setting ourselves free from heavy emotions that keep us stuck in the past. It means that in choosing to forgive, we’re choosing to let go of the judgments, and resentment, and misunderstandings we’ve been harboring inside.
So in order for the gift of forgiveness to be effective – for it to really set us free from the past – we can’t force our kids to forgive before they’re ready. We have to remember that forgiveness is really one of the last steps in healing. This is true for us and it’s true for our children- if we don’t first feel and release the emotions around the situation that’s grieving us, that isn’t effective because its not getting to the root of what’s being released through forgiveness. And the point here is exactly that, forgiveness is more than just words. I might be tempted to tell my kids, “listen, your sister said she’s sorry, tell her you forgive her.” But, it’s not just about forcing our kids to say they forgive someone. Those are great words, but she could likely say them without feeling an ounce of forgiveness in her body. We’ve all forgiven from that place without feeling much different afterwards. Rather, for forgiveness to be effective, for it to really be done in search of the freedom that it offers, it requires an actual embodiment of the feeling of compassion. To access the true power of forgiveness, we have to be able to embody and feel compassion. So how do we do this with our kids?
Well, first, rather than insisting our kids apologize and forgive whomever we think is owed forgiveness, we have to first acknowledge what happened. We have to acknowledge the hurt and the pain that was caused. If our kids are younger, we can do this by getting down on their level and helping them narrate what happened. “What happened? And then what?” And reflect it back to them.
If they’re older, it’s really just having a conversation with them, acknowledging how they were hurt or wronged – just sitting with them in it. “Wow – that sounds like it was a really hurtful thing to hear from your best friend.” Or, “I’m so sorry you had to go through that.” Ask them how they’re feeling about it. Encourage them to release the emotion tied to it – tell your kids it’s ok to cry. It’s ok to be angry – I totally get why you’d be feeling angry about that.
When we sense that they’ve processed the feelings and released them (maybe they’ve cried, maybe they’ve screamed, maybe they’ve journaled), we can ask if they’re ready to consider forgiving. But in asking, it has to be a true question that’s ok for them to decline and say no. Our kids need to know that it’s ok for them to say no, that they’re not ready. They need to know that it’s safe to take all the time they need.
Also remember, forgiveness is a gift they’re giving to themselves. So if our kids seem to have figured out whatever issue arose and the problem seems to have resolved itself in time, then maybe your child doesn’t need to forgive. If we’re talking about young kids fighting over a toy, and someone ripped the toy out of someone else’s hands, and then you notice 10 minutes later they’re both over the incident and playing together, then maybe your five year old doesn’t need to forgive as a step in healing whatever happened.
But, if you notice that hurt is still there, if they’ve processed the emotions in the body, but there’s still pain, judgment or misunderstandings, then you can continue to gently prompt them until they’re ready to forgive.
- Understand that forgiveness doesn’t excuse wrongdoing.
Another important concept we need to understand and impart on our kids is that forgiveness is not letting someone off the hook. Forgiveness is not about accepting, or agreeing with, or condoning what happened. If they’re not understanding this (or if we’re not understanding this), our kids will likely tend to want to hold on to forgiveness because they might have this inner narrative that the other person doesn’t deserve their forgiveness. We need to teach them and help them understand that forgiveness doesn’t negate wrongdoing. Forgiveness doesn’t excuse wrongdoing. What we want to bring home is this sentiment that “I am deciding to let go of my hurt and angry feelings, my judgments and misunderstandings even though they hurt me.”
And maybe you’re wondering, but the wrongdoing does need to be addressed, right? If it’s within our control – i.e., if it’s one of our kids who’s the offender, that’s where we come in as parents and we can address the behavior however we see fit. Whatever we see as appropriate and in line with our parenting and philosophies in discipline. And this can help to enforce to your injured child that forgiveness isn’t saying that what the other child did was good, or right or fair, and they can forgive when they’re ready anyway.
But unfortunately the truth is, while we can dole out discipline to the offender under our roof, there’s going to be a lifetime of hurt and offense and pain caused to our children where we can’t do or say anything to the person who caused it. So, we should teach our kids to disassociate their choice to forgive from the offender and the actions or words of the offender.
- We must model forgiveness.
So here we are again, right? So much of our teaching and parenting comes down to what our kids are seeing us do – what they’re experiencing. If they’re hearing us rehash ways we were hurt years ago or see us making comments rooted in bitterness, or holding on to long-term grudges, they notice. For those of us who are married – this can be a daily practice of our kids seeing us forgive our partners. For those who are divorced, your kids are noticing whether you’re expressing forgiveness. It becomes ingrained in them. It’s crucial for us to model forgiveness in front of our kids.
We also need to model forgiveness to our children. It’s normal and inevitable that we’ll get upset with our kids or get angry or frustrated with them for things they do or don’t do. But when we’re ready, we’ve got to forgive them and move on – let it go. Continuing to harp on our kids for things they did weeks ago, or months ago, or years ago – holding on to resentment toward them – that’s not teaching forgiveness.
I hope these help you as you guide your children into understanding and practicing forgiveness! Shoot me a DM or leave a comment below, I’d love to hear how you’ve modeled forgiveness for your kids!
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