Teaching Children About Forgiveness

Honoring Your Child’s Innocence

by Bob Lancer

There is a fine line between leading a child to apologize or feel regret and remorse and causing the child to feel emotionally unraveled by an overwhelming sense of guilt.  We don’t want children to say “I’m sorry” because they feel forced to do so, but because they genuinely care about the feelings of another.  So what we are really after is promoting the child’s development of compassionate consideration for the feelings, needs and interests of others.  We do this first by consistently demonstrating caring sensitivity, with deep understanding of the child’s real needs, in our relationship with the child.

To the extent that you relate insensitively with the child, ignoring his legitimate expressions of need; relating in ways that cause him to feel ignored, left out or overlooked; react so harshly to his mistakes that he feels insecure about your love and the reliability of your needed support – to that extent, you lead the child by your example into similarly uncaring, inattentive, non-responsive ways of relating with others.

Every child is showing you how to effectively lead her into more caring, responsible self-conduct, but you have to observe the child closely, with your heart and mind, as well as with your eyes and ears, open and alert to sense how to help this specific child fulfill her higher potential.  Too often parents and other caregivers bark out corrections and lay guilt-trips on the child as if that is automatically the way to lead, but that often causes the child to feel hurt, resentful and more inclined to rebel than to cooperate.

Real forgiveness is definitely something that can be taught, and it is also something that can be un-taught.  The lesson is taught or un-taught in your way of responding to your child’s inappropriate behavior.  Before you can effectively re-direct the child into more appropriate action, you need to really forgive the child for what he has done.  In the absence of your true forgiveness, we lead the child with an attitude of resentment, which incites the child’s distrust, defensiveness and defiance.  Forgiveness of the child is based on understanding the factors that contribute to a child’s misconduct, including the child’s tiredness, hunger, exposure to overly harsh discipline, receiving of too little close connection and too much cold direction and correction, exposure to someone modeling the poor behavior, etc.

Understanding the contributing factors and forgiving your child does not mean that you do not address the behavior problem.  Usually, the best way to address an inappropriate behavior is by eliminating the surrounding influences that contribute to it and giving the child a clear signal about the behavior you will and will not tolerate. But it is crucial that the way you deliver that clear signal in no way causes the child to feel so hurt by you that she feels more attacked than truly supported.

Respecting your child’s feelings is a crucial practice for teaching your child to recognize and respect innocence and everyone’s worthiness of love. As you demonstrate awareness of and respect for your child’s feelings, you nurture, strengthen and support his ability to recognize respect the sacred heart of innocence in himself and others.