Today’s post comes from a lovely guest writer, Helen Roberts, mum of 2 yr old Henry.
Can we teach young children forgiveness?
I can still remember the bowl of baked beans flying off the table and going on the rug, the sofa and the picture on the wall. I recall taking my son upstairs and sitting him on my lap, and then I counted very slowly to 10. And I was thinking, why I am so frustrated? Why won’t my child eat anything? And he looked at me with those big brown eyes, and he didn’t even have the ability to say the words, “I’m sorry, I know you are angry,” but he knows, and I know. We embrace, and I take a deep breath and we carry on.
And I’ve been thinking about forgiveness a lot recently, as my husband and I try to be consistent in creating loving boundaries, and showing that to every action there is a consequence. We are still counting slowly to 10 as we calm down together, and now my son can say “sorry Mummy”. So we’ve made a start, but how can I continue to teach forgiveness to my toddler?
As a parent, I think one of the big things I have had to learn over the last two years is to be able to forgive myself. To realise that as much as I try to be a good mother and set high expectations for myself, I have limits.
And that is what I want to teach my son about forgiveness. I want to create a safe space for him to make mistakes, because we all do. And in this space, whether it is home or elsewhere, I want it to be a place where we can be open and share; and to be able to say, “I’m sorry”. In that space we embrace and we start afresh.
As believers, and indeed mothers we need to be able to show our children that we have been truly forgiven. That we have a relationship with our Heavenly Father that is open and honest. To be able to forgive we have to let go of the negative feelings that we have towards the person or situation that has hurt us. We need to heal, and we need to feel released.
For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. Matthew 6.14
Sometimes when we try to forgive others it can feel far removed from the relationship we have with God. But of course the two are inextricably linked. If we cannot show forgiveness and grace to others, how can God build a relationship with us?
For toddlers, everything seems personal to them, and they can feel so easily hurt even by the little things in life. Forgiving others is hard to do when we are still feeling hurt. Even as adults, forgiveness can take time as a wound or friendship is healed. So as parents we need to guide our children through the process of forgiveness:
Choose vocabulary in your family that works for you and your child. Sorry, I love you, let’s start again, let’s move on, what can we do to make X smile again? It doesn’t matter what it is as long as it is simple and understood by all.
God wants a close relationship with us, what better way to show that to our children when we forgive than by giving them hugs and by teaching them to hug others too?
It may take time for children to forget the hurt they feel. Reinforce the forgiveness by helping them focus on the positive e.g. What can we do to make everyone feel better? Can you think of some nice things that X has done for you?
We need to model forgiveness in our marriage. Children will perceive when there is resentment and hurt between you and your spouse. They need to hear the words of forgiveness and they need to see the actions of grace too.
If we don’t teach our young children the steps to true forgiveness, it will be so much harder for them to forgive as they grow older. We need to give them the ability to release any anger and hurt that can affect them in childhood so that they have the tools of forgiveness and strong, loving hearts prepared for adulthood.