Teaching Character: Forgiveness
Most parents get in their own way when it comes to forgiveness. Oddly, much of what we do teaches our children to not forgive, to hold on to things. For one simple reason: children live in present tense and adults don’t. Adults race around in a past, present, future trifecta and we’re never quite sure which timeframe will win out.
Not for young children. They’re present tense all the way. Think of a child’s first 5 years as Momento, only not in reverse. Or filled with murder and intrigue.
Children are so alive in the present that they forget to stew and brood on some perceived wrong. Oh, they feel intensely. They might even crumble to the floor saying that they got their feelings hurt. Or were literally hurt.
But children under 5 don’t hold onto things the way we adults do. Typically, they need to be heard (either by you the parent or by whoever might seem to need forgiving) and then it’s done.
OK, so I’m over simplifying things a tad. But. The truth is, young children are, at their core, good beings. Forgivers by nature. Think about how they forgive you when you are
an ass not at your best. For children, it takes too much effort to hold onto grudges or upsets or hurts. And by the way, all those things get in the way of forgiveness.
Remember, forgiveness is about moving on. It’s about putting your hurt behind you. It’s about being resilient when things don’t go your way.
Like Oprah Winfrey says, “True forgiveness is when you can say, ‘Thank you for that experience.’ Not to pull out the big Oprah guns…but she does have a point.
There are a few steps to remind kids that the present they inhabit is pretty damn awesome, though:
1. Let them get their sads or angries out. If they need to cry, give them space. There is nothing more clearing than a good ole breakdown. Kids need that. For adults, this is one of the hardest things. We want to right wrongs, heal hurts and even get our kids to shut the hell up sometimes. But letting your kid simply cry it out gets everything over and done with a lot faster.
2. Change the channel. Offer a new way for your child to re-engage and move away from the hurt. Like when fighting over toys happens, flood the market with other toys, remind them about turn taking, distract them both by telling a story. It’s less about distracting and more about not dwelling.
3. Use your words. Well, really, encourage children to use their words. Simply help your child ask for a turn with the red truck when Jennifer is finished. Or help them say, “No thank you.” Your role here is to teach your child how to navigate these situations, so get in touch with your inner ambassador.
4. If you have to intervene, don’t demonize the offender. Remember your actions are as important as the child’s in these situations. If your kid got hit by ball hurled through the air, tell the kid who threw it that ‘balls don’t like to fly.”
The point isn’t to sound intellectually superior but to get both kids to understand that what happened is not OK. Using words like this anthropomorphizes the world so that children can easily and readily grasp it.
5. Embrace empathy, but don’t lecture about it. This is tricky. Kids are wonderful at empathizing if you can paint the picture. Again, breathe life into the situation.
photo credit: Joyseph