This is a HUGE topic and honestly one that deserves to be handled with so much care. There are many streams of thought that we can discuss surrounding this topic, but we are going to concentrate on how it looks to teach your kids about forgiveness and why the process is so important.
Understanding the Mindset of Forgiveness. This may sound abnormal, but FORGIVENESS, at its core, has nothing at all to do with the other person or even how they may respond. It’s easy to just teach our kids that forgiveness goes like this – Someone tells you “I’m sorry” then you say “I forgive you” and this resolves the entire issue. In this case, your child may develop the mindset that thinks: As long as you “say” what you are “suppose” to, THEN everything will work out. But this is not really setting the right mindset of what forgiveness really is. Forgiveness should come with zero strings attached, and that it is paramount for the forgiveness process. We want to encourage them to understand that sometimes forgiveness can be a process. You do not want your child to enter into forgiveness just to please someone or because they think they have to. And truthfully, when they do that out of obligation, they are more than likely not addressing nor expressing how they really feel.
Sometimes it is OK to Wait on Forgiveness. Whoa.. what did you just say? Did you just tell me that it’s fine to hold back on the forgiveness process? Won’t that damage the psyche of my child? We all remember that time when our parents MARCHED us directly in-front of another person that we got mixed up with and made us forgive them immediately??? We knew nothing of the process or maybe even why we were “forgiving” the other person, but we just did it and went through the motions because our parents told us to do so. Your child needs to actually BE READY to release that other person because THIS is truly experiencing the power of forgiveness. In any given situation, your child may have feelings of deep frustration, or anger, or hurt from whatever took place and allowing them to walk through and talk through those feelings before just saying “I forgive you” may be crucial for them. Providing them with the opportunity to “wait” and work through some of these feelings may be the best option for them. It may even stand to reason that further discussion about the hurt, in combination with time needs to be established, in order to come to the best mental space to offer true forgiveness.
The Difference between Waiting and Unforgiveness. This is a delicate balance for sure, and with all of these points, conversation certainly needs to be determined by the maturity level and age readiness of each child. Talking to a 6 year old, and a 16 year old is vastly different, especially when dealing with such different situations, and mental capacities. The previous point discussed the possibility that waiting may be valuable so that your child can work through the negative and powerful feelings that would leave them unable to forgive. The caution here is that you will need to help guide your child, and be sure to offer a different time to revisit the conversation. You will want to work with their ability to move toward forgiveness and continue to work through the process until it can be settled. Simply staying upset, and not working through their negative thoughts can (and most likely will) push your child further and further down the path leading toward unforgiveness. This path is filled with bitterness and resentment – two traits we would not want our child growing in.
Understanding What Forgiveness Should Feel Like. Now, this one may be tough if you have not experienced true forgiveness yourself. If you have not walked down this road personally, then hopefully this article alone is enough information to help you or at least encouraged you to seek out the fullness of forgiveness. If you have experienced forgiveness, then you should be able to talk about the feeling of freedom that comes with it. Your child may even experience true compassion toward the other person and allowing for this is really important. Let us be clear that compassion is NOT an acceptance of the wrong doing. However, compassion may come because you gained a sense of empathy and understanding as to WHY they may have acted out or spoke in a hurtful manner. Through forgiveness, someone may also reach a sense of accomplishment or satisfaction. This is quite normal really, and that is basically because forgiving someone may be a difficult thing to do and the huge release of strong emotions can be a tremendous sense of accomplishment. So, feeling “good” about the forgiveness process should never be minimized, because these feelings of forgiveness can be quite real.
Forgiveness Can be Completely Private. Sometimes forgiveness may not even involve the other person whatsoever. If the situation is too toxic, or far too volatile – a physical conversation will probably only lead to further fighting or hurt. There may also not be the option to include the other person because they are gone or even unwilling to be present. For this type of situation, whenever your child is fully in a frame of mind and prepared to forgive, then that process may need to take place in private. Perhaps in these extraordinary cases, teach your child to take an extra step and express their forgiveness in a written letter form, or just speaking about it out loud with a TRUSTED accountability partner or parent. This is crucial to teach because if your child is ready to forgive, but the situation does not permit a face-to-face interaction, they need a way to still walk through it.
We hope you are able to use this information as an incredible opportunity to help your child through these steps so they can experience the joy of true forgiveness.