Friday, March 17, 2017

3 Ways to Teach Your Children How To Forgive

At an early age kids are aware that when they do something wrong - like hit, bite or throw toys there is a consequence, maybe a timeout or a firm talking to and then we tell them to apologize to the child (or adult) they hurt. But are we missing something pretty important here as parents. What about the recipient child who was the victim of another child biting, hitting or yanking the toy out of their hands how do we teach them to respond to the apology?

As I've watched my kids apologize for their actions over the years I've noticed two or three different reactions they get from the person they are apologizing to:

1 - The victim smiles, looks awkward and doesn't know what to say
2 - The person they hurt is mad and doesn't want anything to do with them or their apology
3 - After being apologized to the person says "that's OK".

Sound familiar?

I'm sure your child has been victim to another child who gets mad and yanks a toy from their hands, or maybe someone breaks something of theirs -this is bound to happen to your kids just like it has happened to mine. Sibling rivalry sure can add fuel to this fire!

My youngest child is somewhat stubborn and since he is the youngest he spends a lot of time trying to keep up with his older siblings which can be frustrating for him. Sometimes in his frustrations, he does something naughty to his brother or sisters and I send him to our "time out step" to cool off and think about what he did. After a few minutes I spend time talking to him asking him if he knows why he is in timeout, how his behaviour affected the other person and finally if he feels sorry for what he did. If he feels sorry, we ask that he go apologize right away for what he did.

We work so hard teaching our kids to learn right from wrong, apologize and feel sorry for their actions but what about the flip side of this? How about the kid who is the victim - what should we teach them to do when someone is apologizing to them?

From early on my husband and I have taught the child who is being apologized to, to say "I forgive you". They may still be a little mad or upset but we still ask that they verbally say "I forgive you" to the one apologizing.

Learning to apologize doesn't come easy - in fact it is hard! You want to stay mad (it feels good when you are in pain)- you were hurt and don't you deserve to hold a grudge towards the person that hurt you?

We teach our kids that by staying mad and not forgiving you are in fact hurting yourself more. The burden or heaviness you feel inside when you refuse to forgive someone stays with you not the person apologizing! It doesn't "hurt them back" one bit. It just hurts you. 

The Bible has so many verses about forgiveness - we even have Ephesians 4:32 painted on an old fence I decorated and hung on our wall that says:

 So how do you teach your kids to forgive? We've used a few techniques in our house that have worked and I hope they will work for you.

1 - Model What Forgiveness Looks Like - if my husband or I are the "victims" to whatever naughty behaviour our child(ren) inflicted on us we make sure that right after their apology we get down eye to eye with them and thank them for the apology and then say "I forgive you for __________". 

2 - Require The Child To Say "I Forgive You" - if they have heard you as the parent say this to them or another person and have watched you model this then it should come as no surprise that they themselves should do the same thing and say "I forgive you" when being apologized to. 

For younger kids we make sure to reinforce the fact that doing something wrong/naughty is still wrong - forgiveness is not saying to the other person that what they did is "OK" - it isn't! Forgiveness is releasing yourself from the bitterness that can grow inside of you when you hold a grudge and choose not to forgive. 

It isn't a feeling it is a choice. 

We tell our kids that they can still feel mad or sad but they must choose to forgive. Those feelings are still real, especially if your child is upset - and it is OK to be upset but being able to separate our feelings from our own choice to forgive is powerful. 

3. Forgive - Even if Someone Refuses to Apologize - As adults we have all experienced times when someone does or says something hurtful and refuses to apologize for their actions/words, right? Forgiveness isn't conditional - you don't forgive only if someone apologizes to you. You choose to forgive even if the person who wronged you refuses to apologize. 

This is probably the most difficult thing to teach your children especially if they are young. Let me tell you a story that happened recently to show you an example of this (hang in there it is kind of long)!

 A few weeks ago my two boys (ages 7 & 4) were outside playing in a small playground next to a church where we attend a weekly bible study. This isn't our "home" church but the church is gracious enough to open up its facility to our group and allow the kids to play in their playground. My boys along with two other older boys (11 yrs & 13 yrs) were throwing snowballs at the slide to make it more slippery. I and the other kids' moms were just inside watching the boys play (and chatting of course!) when all of a sudden an elderly man who is the custodian for the building brushes past us, bursts through the doors we are standing by and begins yelling at the four boys. 

He is shouting, he is angry and our kids are terrified! 

He is accusing our kids of throwing snowballs at the windows and brick walls of the church. The boys, who are scared, sincerely apologize to this angry stranger, not quite sure what they did wrong. They explain that they were throwing the snow at the slide and if one accidentally hit the building it was not intentional. They all apologize, again.

By now I along with the other two moms are outside trying to understand what is going on and if our kids did in fact do something wrong. The custodian, in his anger begins to storm back into the building. I stop the man and ask if he could tell the boys that he forgives them since they did apologize. He replies sarcastically that he doesn't believe the apology is genuine and he doesn't want to forgive them. The boys hear all of this. The man heads back into the church.

At this point my two boys are crying and so I forget about the custodian and go to comfort my little guys. My heart is broken for them - the very thing we have been teaching them, to forgive, is not being modeled well - from and adult - at a CHURCH! (more teachable moments from this, right?!!)

Fortunately one of the other moms who is inside calms the custodian down, sends for her son (the oldest of the four) and explains to the custodian how sincere her son truly is and that all we are asking is for him to verbally say he forgives them. A less angry custodian shakes the 13 year old boys' hand and tells him that he does indeed forgive him. 

The problem here is that the other three boys who were involved do not hear these words at all. It is quite sad. 

Time for the teachable moment to start - this has given me the opportunity to teach my kids that even when someone refuses to apologize to you or does something wrong to you but doesn't apologize you still have a choice to forgive them. I ask my boys to choose to forgive the custodian - and they do. They may not understand all that just happened but they will remember that they chose to forgive this man even if they never speak with him or see him again. 

Learning to say "I forgive you" takes practice - for both parents and their kids but it is well worth it. I hope this advice is helpful to you as a parent and I hope your kids benefit from learning this advice as well. I'd love to hear how you teach your children about forgiveness - please leave me a comment below. 


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