Forgiveness is a tough lesson to learn no matter how old you are; like with any skill, practice makes perfect, and the sooner you start, the easier it becomes. Here are a few ways you can teach your kids about forgiveness and ensure that they understand what it truly means to forgive.

Forgiving is not forgetting

This is something a lot of people struggle with when it comes to forgiveness. It’s a common misconception that forgiving someone is the same as condoning their bad behavior or giving them a free pass. To forgive is to let go of the anger or animosity you feel towards a person who wronged you - you do not have to forget what they did or suddenly become their best friend – but it helps you release those bad feelings and move on. Explain the difference to your kids so that they understand that when they forgive someone, it does not make the action okay.

Put yourself in their shoes

When someone cuts you off on the road, do you ever stop to think why they might have done it? Perhaps they’re in a hurry because they are late for an important meeting or their wife is in labor, or any other host of reasons. This doesn’t mean that they deserved to cut you off and drive recklessly, but if you consider the situation that might have led them to do it, you can more easily forgive them. Teach this to your kids. If another child takes their toy or says something mean, ask your child to consider why they would have done that? Were they having a bad day? Did another child take their toy? If you can teach your kids to take on the perspective of others, it will be easier for them to forgive.

Make a statement of feelings

There have been times when a friend has said something that hurt my feelings without their knowledge. They did not speak with the intention of hurting me, but what they said or the way they said it rubbed me the wrong way. Sometimes, people do or say things that offend us, and they don’t realize it. It’s important to consider what it was that upset you and tell that other person. This lets them understand your perspective and see their actions or words in a new light, and offer a more sincere apology. If your kids are hurt by someone else, encourage them to say, “Your words made me sad because…but I forgive you.”

Encourage a conversation

Along with a statement of feelings, encourage your kids to have a conversation with someone who angers or hurts them. Talking things out can reveal a misunderstanding and shed light on the situation. Conflicts are resolved much quicker when everyone involved is able to voice their thoughts and express their opinions. A child may not understand how their actions affect others, and talking about it can help them realize that and correct their behavior.

Forgiving doesn’t make it hurt less

When you forgive, it does help you let go of the negative feelings associated with that person or situation, but it doesn’t necessarily take away the hurt. As a child, if someone pushed you on the playground and scraped up your knee, forgiving them didn’t magically heal you. Forgiveness can repair a relationship, but it doesn’t take away the sting of a betrayal. Explain to your kids that forgiveness is a special miracle pill – it’s more like a Band-Aid. It covers up the injury and helps it heal, but it the pain can sometimes still linger.

Lead by example

The best thing you can do is show your kids how to forgive by doing it yourself. Practice forgiveness in every situation that gives you opportunity. If someone does cut you off on the road while your kids are in the car, talk about how you forgive that person even though they did something wrong. If your kids do something wrong, forgive them. Actions always speak louder than words; act the way you want your kids to, and they will follow suit.

If you’re looking for other ways to teach your kids forgiveness or start a conversation about forgiveness, here are some books and movies that have a theme of forgiveness:

Books

The Tale of Despereaux

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (also a movie)

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (also a movie)

Movies

Shrek

Ice Age

A Christmas Carol (any version)
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