How do you teach your child to forgive?
Dr. Cathleen McGreal
Sometimes, amidst all the bad news headlines, we read a story of luminous forgiveness.
One example is Jennifer Thompson-Cannino’s story of rape and forgiveness, told in the book, Picking Cotton: Our Memoir of Injustice and Redemption. It’s well worth the read. But for most of us, and our children, forgiveness won’t be as dramatic. For the everyday hurts and wounds our children experience, how can we help them learn to forgive?
First, consider checking out some related books from your local library. There are age-appropriate books that can stimulate discussions of forgiveness. Address how the characters respond, guiding your children toward healthy reactions.
Explore how we respond to other people's behavior. Psychologists talk about the “fundamental attribution error.” This means that when “I” behave in a negative way that hurts others, it’s because of the situation. But when “you” behave in a negative way, it’s because of a bad disposition! Help your child explore various ways to interpret the behavior of others.
Don’t minimize your child’s pain. Emotional pain is powerful, and forgiveness when one has been seriously wronged is a process. It is like peeling through the many layers of an onion. Friendships may never be restored, but forgiveness can diminish the anger that your child feels.
"Don't minimize your child's pain. ... but forgiveness can
Nurture a strong prayer life in your children. Help them bring their concerns to our loving Creator. Empathy and compassion toward others help children learn to forgive.
Pope Francis, in his Sunday Angelus on Sept. 15, 2013, suggested the following: “Everyone, in silence, think of someone with whom things aren’t going well, someone we are angry at, someone we don’t wish well. Think of this person, and in silence in this moment, let’s pray for this person and become merciful towards this person.”
This can be a helpful practice.