Forgiveness is a powerful tool that leads to a sense of peace, and can be helpful in many areas of your life. Like Buddha once said, “Holding onto anger is like drinking poison, and expecting the other to die.”
Being attached to negative emotions like anger and bitterness ultimately hurts the individual holding onto them. When it comes to your children, you want to teach them how to forgive at an early age in hopes they can continue using these practices throughout their lives.
These 7 tips for teaching your kids about forgiveness can help them learn to let go of grudges and lead happier lives.
# 1: Do Your Research
In order to teach your children about forgiveness, it is first important to ensure you have an understanding of true forgiveness yourself. Forgiveness stems from a life where you consciously choose to take things less personally, and make a mindful decision to practice forgiveness daily. It is an emotional process of taking responsibility of your emotional health, thus freeing yourself from past hurts. According to Reine C. van der Wal and colleagues, forgiveness can be defined as the process of reigning in the negative impulses that arise within when someone upsets you, and choosing to treat that person with kindness instead.
# 2: Lead by example
“Do as I say, not as I do.” This is a cliche quote that you may have heard parents jokingly tell their kids in sitcoms over the years. However, children are likely to repeat the actions they witness parents doing, rather than simply listen to what the parents are verbally commanding them to do. This can be seen from a very early age when toddlers learn through imitating their parents’ behaviors. When forgiveness is a common practice that children can see among parents to one another, or from parents to friends and extended family members, an environment exists where children can learn by example.
# 3: Teach Balance
Help your kids understand how to strike a healthy balance of not allowing themselves to be treated poorly, yet still practicing compassion. For example, it could be considered unhealthy to allow the same friend to repeat the same hurtful behavior and forgive this friend over and over without the friend exhibiting the slightest sign of remorse. One’s self-respect can even begin to deteriorate when an ongoing pattern of hurtfulness then forgiveness occurs. Conversely, you can teach your children about empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. When you teach your kids to “put yourself in their shoes” when it comes to forgiveness, this can help them to quickly identify that a well-meaning friend who shows remorse should be forgiven.
# 4: Establish Guidelines
The art of forgiving is a necessary step to establishing long term friendships, but knowing when to forgive and move on can be hard to determine at times. Holding onto every wrongdoing or offense can add up and lead to a bitter life with little sense of trust. These guidelines are taken from Growing Friendships: A Kids’ Guide to Making and Keeping Friends, by Eileen Kennedy-Moore & Christine McLaughlin, and provide an excellent outline that helps to establish when to forgive and forget:
- If it only happened one time, and it probably will not happen again, let it go.
- If your friend did not do it on purpose, let it go.
- If it was not that bad, let it go.
- If your friend is sincerely sorry, let it go.
- If it was just a mistake, and the friend is usually kind, let it go.
- If it happened more than a month ago, definitely let it go.
Guidelines like these can help you steer your children in the direction of having healthy, long-term friendships. However, sometimes letting go of something is the right thing to do simply so it will not weigh down the individual, even if it does not seem like the other person is deserving of being forgiven.
# 5: Promote Healthy Communication
It should come as no surprise that healthy communication is an important factor in friendships or any relationship. Communication breakdowns are, after all, one of the most common family therapy issues. Learning how to communicate properly can prove to be challenging for adults and children alike. Being present, making eye contact, and forcing yourself to stop and listen are some of the helpful tips that may improve your communication skills. Practicing these yourself will help you to lead by example, and pass these skills along to your offspring.
Issues that require forgiveness can often be avoided when communication is strong between two individuals. This approach matched with compassion and a sense of empathy can often help absolve concerns before they reach the point of offense. If communication is a struggle within your family, you may consider seeking family therapy. In a family therapy session where children and teens are included, you can work together to reestablish the lines of communication, learn how to avoid one another’s hot buttons, and solve underlying issues that increase sensitivity to each other’s words.
# 6: Teach How To Handle Anger
Children can learn to forgive at a very young age, as well as how to cope with anger. Establishing a home with a sense of peace where forgiveness is a common practice that can help children learn to squash anger before it takes root and becomes a daily part of their lives. A child can often feel unsafe in a home where anger is prolific. If you think your child is struggling to deal with anger or you feel rage is too common of a practice in your household, you can seek family counseling where dealing with anger can be taught in a healthy way.
# 7: Seek Professional Guidance
Challenges in forgiving are not something you want to pass onto your children. To live happier lives, children need to learn how to forgive and not dwell in the pits of bitterness.
Whether you feel your family needs some direction on handling anger issues, improving communication, or simply learning how to revamp your forgiveness practices, contact the caring and compassionate staff at Arkansas Relationship Counseling Center for a complimentary consultation today. You can contact us by filling out our online form or by calling (501) 222-3463 today.