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Kids are constantly asked to forgive others. When siblings upset them, we ask them to forgive. When friends aren't friendly, we ask them to forgive. When parents, teachers and grandparents make mistakes and hurt their feelings, we ask kids to go ahead and forgive them. And they do. But do they really understand what it means to be forgiving? Are they, in fact, forgiving other people, or are they following a script written by their parents?
Forgiveness is an important life skill. but it requires instruction, practice and patience. Telling one child to mutter, "I'm sorry," and another to respond with, "I forgive you," isn't actually a lesson in forgiveness. These moments teach kids what to say, but they do little to help kids understand the process of forgiveness.
Learning how to forgive is essential because it helps increase positive emotions. When people learn how to forgive and move forward, they experience greater happiness and less stress. They don't let negative experiences define them.
Modeling forgiveness is always important when it comes to helping children understand the process of forgiving, and not just within the family. Children should see and hear your stories about forgiveness with friends, co-workers and extended family. This normalizes the process and helps them internalize the steps to being forgiving.
Accepting that something happened and is over is a powerful exercise. When we replay negative events in our minds, we get stuck in a loop. We rethink every step of the problem to look for the pivotal moment that could have changed everything. But "could haves" are useless at times.
There is great freedom in simply accepting that something happened, it hurt for a while and now it's over. You can't change the past, but you sure can learn from it and use that knowledge to create a happier future.
Closure isn't essential
When someone wrongs us, we tend to hold out for a perfect apology. We want that person to understand what they did to hurt us and how that experience played out in our lives. This can prove to be a long wait. Sometimes the best you get is a watered down half apology, and that doesn't feel like closure.
It's important to teach kids that forgiveness is a choice they can make, no matter how the other person handles the situation. You might not always get the closure you hope for, but you can choose to forgive and move forward with or without the person in the wrong.
When we cue kids to immediately accept an "I'm sorry" from a friend, we miss one important piece of the forgiveness process. It doesn't feel good when others hurt our feelings, and we have a right to let them know exactly how it feels.
Teach your children to state the feeling first and then work toward forgiveness. If a friend leaves your child out at school, for example, your child should say, "It really made me feel mad and sad when you told me that I couldn't play with your group. I didn't like that." Once the feelings have been addressed, you can talk to your child about what might have triggered the situation. In this case, maybe the friend wasn't feeling well, needed a break or felt jealous about something. Exploring the issue from two sides helps your child tap into empathy, and that increases forgiveness.
Write it out
Sometimes it's hard to accept something and move on. Some kids want to talk about upsetting situations over and over again. Writing it down and tearing it up can help them break free of the hurt.
Have your child write down or draw a picture of their feelings about the situations and tear it into tiny pieces to throw in the air. This is a great way to release pent up emotions and return to a positive state.
Forgiveness is both an action and a choice. It takes time. Kids deserve the space to process their emotions at their own pace, and that might mean taking a break from a friendship for a while. Immediate forgiveness might work short term, but if kids don't have the time to actually work through their feelings, those feelings will return again and again.
They say that time heals all wounds. Give your child the gift of time.