How to Teach Forgiveness to Your Child

One of the most difficult things to do is to forgive. But, it is essential to forgive and forget to maintain healthy relationships. Here’s how to teach your child the art of forgiveness.

By Team ParentCircle

How to Teach Forgiveness to Your Child

“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong,” said Mahatma Gandhi. How true! In our day-to-day lives, there are quite a few instances when someone hurts us. And, it is very difficult for us to forget or forgive the individuals in question. Doesn’t this inability of ours imply how emotionally weak we are? What example do we set for our children? Don’t we want them to grow up emotionally strong? Then, the most important lesson we need to teach them is to learn to forgive. What if we can do this the fun way? Here are some interesting activities to impart lessons on forgiveness to our children.

Activities to teach children forgiveness

1. Friendship band

What better way to encourage your child to forgive than to let him make his own friendship band and tie it around the wrist of a friend he finds difficult to forgive?

2. Stick puppets

Use magazines or newspaper to cut out pictures representing mother, father, and children and paste them to ice cream sticks. Use these as puppets and weave a story to help your child understand forgiveness.

3. ‘Clean’ heart

Cut out the shape of a heart from chart paper, scribble on it and give it to your child. Now, ask your child to clean the pencil marks on the heart using an eraser. Explain how important it is for him to erase any differences he has with his friends and forgive them.

4. The ‘Gift’ of forgiveness

Ask your child to gift-wrap an empty box and decorate it. Then, explain to him how forgiveness is like that gift - a gift that only he can give to someone. Ask him to imagine how happy his friend would feel to receive that gift.

5. Walk in another’s shoes

Give your child your pair of shoes and ask him to walk in it for a while. Then, explain to him how it is difficult for him to walk as the shoes aren’t his. Similarly, only if he tries to walk in his friend’s shoes will he understand his friend’s point of view and learn to forgive.

6. Sport a ‘smile’

Have a role-play with one sibling saying something harsh to the other. In return, the other sibling should smile back. A smile can do wonders. It can wipe away hurt and bitterness.

7. The power of prayer

Ask your child to say a silent prayer and bless the person who hurt him. The more he does this, the easier it would be for him to forget the hurt and forgive the person who caused the hurt.

Now, let us look at some first-person accounts on imparting lessons on forgiveness to children. You can draw inspiration from them.

How my children learnt about forgiveness: A parent speaks...

This is a personal account of Gita Harshit, from Mumbai, who is a mother of two boys aged 16 and 18, as told to Aruna Raghuram.

How does one go about forgiving? The first step is to think about the times you may have hurt someone and reflect on the reasons – anger, jealousy or some problem in your own life. Focussing on such instances will help you feel less angry with the person who hurt you. Second, evaluate what that person means to you. Do you want him/her in your life? If yes, the only way is to practise forgiveness. It is wise to forgive, forget and move on. If we are consumed with anger, we can never be at peace with ourselves. Hanging on to all the hurt and negativity can harm us. The baggage will only get heavier with time. This is important for parents to convey to their children - that, you should forgive someone who hurts you not for their sake, but for your own.

As a mother of two grown-up sons, I can recollect two instances when we, together, learnt about the importance of forgiveness. In the first instance, a few years ago, they were the ones forgiving me! During their growing-up years, I was a very strict mother. I was extremely tough on them. But, later, I wondered whether I had been too harsh – unnecessarily so. I was carrying this burden of guilt. One day, I decided to talk it over with them. I told them how I was feeling and asked for their forgiveness. They were quick to forgive me. They reassured me that they had not been adversely affected by my harshness and did not harbour any resentment towards me. The relief, for me, was immense. I felt liberated. And, my children learnt the importance of both forgiving and being forgiven.

The second instance happened last year when I was seriously ill. I was in a lot of pain – physically, mentally and emotionally. During this traumatic period, when I was in dire need of help, some of my close relatives and a few friends literally walked out on me. I was filled with disillusionment and bitterness for a while. But this negative experience only made me stronger. I chose to forgive them for two reasons: First, I still wanted them in my life. Second, unless I forgave them, I would not be able to move on. I would be stuck in a whirlpool of negativity which was not good for me at all. When my sons asked: “Amma, how can you forgive them?” I explained my reasons. They understood and learnt lessons in forgiveness that will benefit them throughout their life.

Teaching children to forgive: A principal speaks…

Forgiveness is a great virtue. At Vaels International School, we believe in making teachers, students and parents understand the concept of forgiveness through questions for introspection, short parables and stories.

Let me narrate one instance to explain this. One day, I realised that there were some issues between two of my middle school students. In order to help sort things out, I set aside time to talk to them and counsel them. During the discussions, I understood that on several occasions each had felt humiliated and disrespected by the other. As a result, they had even gone to the extent of resorting to verbal and physical intimidation.

I listened to all that they had to say. Then I narrated my favourite story to them - a story about two friends who had quarrelled during a journey through a desert. Over an argument, one friend slapped the other. The friend, who was slapped, felt hurt and wrote on the sand, “Today, my best friend slapped me.” They continued their journey and reached an oasis. The friend, who was slapped, got stuck in the mire and began to drown. On seeing this, his friend rushed to his rescue and saved him. After being saved, the friend wrote on a stone, “Today, my best friend saved my life!” The friend who had both slapped him as well as saved his life was puzzled. He asked, “When I slapped you, you wrote on sand; but, now you have written on stone. Why is that?” To this, the friend said, “When somebody hurts us we should write it down on sand where winds of forgiveness will erase it; but, when someone does well for us we must engrave it on stone where no wind can erase it.”

That approach to helping the students patch up took time and I had multiple sessions with them. During that time, I was a compassionate and patient listener. I also encouraged them to accomplish simple tasks together, so as to help build their self-esteem. After some time, the students eventually realised that one should value the people in one’s life.

I also asked the students to pen down their own forgiveness declarations, such as:

  1. “I want to forgive my friend.”
  2. “I now choose to release my feelings of anger, disappointment and resentment.”
  3. “I understand that forgiving my friend will wipe away my bitterness.”
  4. “I will stay committed to our friendship and respect my friend and his feelings.”
  5. “I realise that forgiveness will make me happier and more loving towards others”.

At Vaels International School, we do not believe in sending children immediately to counsellors or therapists. Many efforts are taken at different levels by teachers, parents, and by me as well.

I strongly believe that one has to be a patient listener, introspect on the reasons for any misunderstanding in relationships, be empathetic and respond to such situations with the utmost awareness and consciousness. Above all, we should bear in mind that an honest apology often works wonders and helps repair relationships.

R Meenakshi, Principal, Vaels International School, Injambakkam, Chennai