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Are you really teaching your kids how to forgive?

The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.
- Gandhi

Being able to forgive someone isn't always easy. The good news is that you can learn and it will proverbially set you free. There is a saying that states when you forgive someone its like setting a prisoner free. The prisoner just happens to be you. I absolutely agree with this statement. So last week kicking off a parenting program in Atlanta a teacher asked me, how do I teach forgiveness to kids? Such a simple question got me thinking...

The Art of Forgiveness

Forgiveness doesn't merely occur when a little kid says, "I am sorry" for hitting you in the head with a football. You actually need to consciously go through a process of forgiving so you don't hold any resentment or anger. Think about it this way. Were you ever teased in school? What was his or her name? I remember David Smith* who made fun of me out the bus window in 1986 - it's as clear as day. Fortunately, I don't feel any emotion around this but if I did then some forgiveness work would be needed.

The same is true of kids. Terry stole her sister's bathing suit, broke one of the straps and infuriated her sister. Terry said, "I am sorry" and her sister was theoretically was supposed to just forgive. But what again does that mean? It means a whole lot more than a blanket "I am sorry" that supposed to magically sweep clean the situation. I have found that parents that teach their kids how to "really forgive" set them up to succeed and create a foundation of strength as well as self-love.

Here are 5 Simple Steps for Actual Forgiveness:

1. Acknowledge Acknowledge What Happened

2. Experience Experience Your Feelings

3. Communicate Say you want to forgive

4. Forgive State you don't want to carry the anger anymore
(or frustration, guilt, resentment)

5. Release Let it go. Give your anger to Great Spirit
(Buddha, Jesus, Source, Nature, Universe).

Each of these steps must be felt from the heart but acted upon sequentially so a child learns how to truly forgive another child (parent, sister, friend). It will free their emotional body from unresolved grief, pain, sadness and hurt. And it would look like this, Jessie states:

Terry, you stole my bathing suit and broke it. My feelings are hurt. This stinks. I want to forgive you. Please don't take my things without asking. I don't want to fight. I love you.

So Jessie was ten years old. And this is even complex stuff for folks like you and I but at least you get the idea. You as an intelligent adult can begin incorporating these pieces of the forgiveness puzzle as your child is able, so he or she can learn how to forgive mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

Forgiveness Tips

Forgiveness is possible when life is taken less personally, and someone (adult or child) realizes that everyone wants to be happy and avoid pain. And that mistakes and poor choices are typically part of the equation and that mindfully making forgiveness an everyday practice - the result is you are happier.

Another key to forgiving someone else is realizing that each of us has the sole responsibility for our emotional lives. It is solely a given that each person has had problems (loss, abuse, trauma) and that your act of forgiving isn't condoning how someone acted - but it is taking responsibility for your own sense of emotional health knowing that if you stay angry or hostile towards someone, it is really hurting yourself first.

Forgiveness is an emotional process of clearing past hurts so you can be free to live your happiest life as an adult or child. Such a practice is a process of "changing the story" to make whatever happened such as another child getting paint on your shirt, stealing your lunch money or teasing you at school an opportunity to expand your heart to others versus contract. It is a perfect time to guide a child towards loving-kindness, compassion and ultimately to practice forgiveness.

The Power of Forgiveness

Forgiveness isn't exclusively about becoming emotionally free. It is a mindset that when cultivated can help you see yourself as part of a larger community of people that are perfectly imperfect - each of us has needed to forgive someone, and also be forgiven so the practice goes both ways.

Many teachers suggest it is a helpful daily practice to plant the seeds of happiness. Like His Holiness the Dalai Lama suggested that all "traditions carry basically the same message that is love, compassion and forgiveness. The important thing is they should be part of our daily lives." One mother, Margaret, told me that she sits with her kids nightly and says "Is there anyone who we are holding outside of our hearts?" so the topic of forgiveness is put on the table and used to clear any daily hurts.

It is my experience that forgiveness also contributes to parents, adults and children leading their most prosperous lives full of health, wealth and happiness. Like Catherine Ponder suggested, the forgiving state of mind is a magnetic power for attracting good. I believe this is true. The more I have forgiven myself and others in my life - the more miracles, joy and happiness flowed in easily.

And now isn't that what every parent wants? Kids that know how to be happier, more compassionate and forgiving of self and others so their best life just opens up in front of them with less struggle and more ease. I believe so.

By Maureen Healy
Maureen is a child development expert focused on children's emotional health and parenting. Her organization is called Growing Happy Kids ( Maureen travels extensively as she is a popular speaker, teacher and media expert on topics related to raising happier, more confident kids.


Without forgiveness, there's no future.
Desmond Tutu

Forgiveness is not an occasional act: it is an attitude.
Martin Luther King, Jr.

Resentment is like taking a poison and waiting for the other person to die.
Malachy McCourt

Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much.
Oscar Wilde

Life is an adventure in forgiveness.
Norman Cousins

You will know that forgiveness has begun when you recall those who hurt you and feel the power to wish them well.
Lewis B. Smedes

Humanity is never so beautiful as when praying for forgiveness, or else forgiving another.
Jean Paul Richter