Forgiveness is powerful. It has the ability to make us happier, improve our relationships, and boost our physical health. Despite all of its positive power, letting go of negative emotions and practicing true forgiveness is a tough skill for most adults to master let alone to pass along to their kids.
When kids have been wronged, it can be both natural and age-appropriate for them to let their anger build, think of ways they’d like to get revenge, or let their resentment simmer. As parents, though, it’s our job to teach our children to break the cycle of negative thoughts and actions, and learn how to forgive.
Check out the tips below to help your child learn the skill of forgiveness and take comfort knowing that you’re sending them into a happier future by doing so.
Before a child can learn to forgive, they must be able to name their emotions and connect them to the incident that invoked them. You can help your child learn to identify their feelings as early as toddlerhood by reflecting their feelings back, “Jace, it looks like you’re really mad. I can tell because your firsts are tight and your mouth is frowning. Can we talk about why you’re feeling mad?”
Once your kiddo can identify why they’re feeling how they’re feeling, it’s time to introduce the concept of forgiveness. While most people understand the general concept of forgiveness, it’s worth noting that forgiving someone for doing something wrong does not negate the wrong they did or validate their actions as “okay.” Forgiveness simply means letting go of the negative feelings associated with someone. Put simply, "it’s not okay that Sam knocked down my block tower, but I'm going to choose not to be mad at him about it anymore.”
When your child has someone safe to share and process their feelings with, they’re more likely to be able to work through what’s bothering them and move towards true forgiveness. Create an open dialogue by listening when your child shares their thoughts with you, asking questions instead of giving advice, and sharing ideas for solutions only when they ask.
While having you as a sounding board is important as your child learns to process tough emotions, it’s also important that they develop lifelong strategies they can use as they grow and become more independent. Introducing your child to journaling, meditation, or mindfulness practice can help them develop life-long processing skills that will improve their ability to forgive as they grow and change.
When a child is able to put themselves in the shoes of the person who has wronged them, they’re much more likely to be able to forgive them. You can begin to cultivate empathy in your child when they’re just a baby. By developing a strong, trusting relationship in their infancy, modeling (and discussing) empathy in their toddler years, and helping them process how others may be feeling during their preschool years and beyond, you’re setting them up to have the sort of empathy that helps forgiveness come quickly.
When your child understands that they cannot control the actions of others but that they can control how they respond, they’re empowered to let go of a lot of potential negativity. Help your child understand what they can control by talking through what they can and can’t do to change frustrating situations in their lives and being open about your own emotional process.
It takes a village!
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