As humans, we are imperfect, bound to make mistakes or to wrong others at one point or another. Our mistakes or wrongdoings may have an impact on those around us, and their mistakes may have an impact on us. This makes forgiveness a very important component in moving past such situations, maintaining relationships and in accepting ourselves and others as humans. In this blog I will be sharing 3 strategies for raising forgiving kids.
1) How do you react?
The way a parent relates with their child can be a template to how the child will relate to others in their lives and to what they will learn to expect from others. Imagine a situation where a child makes a mistake and their parent shames them by calling the child stupid for making such a mess. Such experiences deny the child the possibility to learn that everyone makes mistakes irrelevant from their levels of intelligence, and potentially teach the child that they should shame and have a right to insult those who make mistakes. Such a scenario is also not conducive to forgiveness, but promotes hurt and anxiety around taking risks, making mistakes, being imperfect. Instead, it is important that a parent promotes an environment where it is okay, safe, and encouraged to admit having done something wrong and highlight honesty as a strength.
Consequences should make sense (such as asking a child to help you clean up if they challenged a rule and played with their ball indoors resulting in breaking something). It is also important to keep in mind that the child is potentially not only observing and learning from the way the parent addresses forgiveness with the child, but also with others. Do they cut ties, hold grudges, and burn bridges with family members who wrong them? Do they ever admit a mistake to the other parent?
2) Teaching the language of forgiveness
Sometimes, as adults, we realize that it is hard for us to find the language to communicate an apology and to communicate an answer to this apology. This may create awkwardness around this conversation. A parent can help their child by teaching them to name what they are feeling because of what happened. For example, saying that they felt hurt, angered, or sad when their sibling lied about them. It is also important to teach child how to say, ‘I forgive you’, or that perhaps they are not yet ready to accept the apology for now. Finally, the child can be thought what language to use to apologize- such as saying sorry, forgive me, I apologize and so on. Role playing these scenarios with toys, friends or using flash cards could help in creating a playful atmosphere for this learning to take place.
3) Setting boundaries
Same as for adults, genuine forgiveness cannot be forced on a child. Instead of forcing the child to forgive, promote forgiveness as a process and a decision. In some situations, it might also be useful to teach the child to set boundaries. For example, if the child is forgiving their friend for pushing them, it is also okay to encourage the child to explain that they do not appreciate being pushed and that they need that to stop.
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Rebecca Cassar is a Family Therapist practicing the Systemic Approach. She specializes in offering therapy to families, couples and individuals who are experiencing distress in their relationships. She can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on 79291817.