Forgiveness can be a difficult concept for young children. They are often grounded in the idea of “fairness” – if someone does something wrong, they should be punished. But, we are encouraged in scripture to “be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as Christ forgave us.” (Ephesians 4:32) It is this idea that we seek to instill in even our youngest students. By forgiving someone, you are not saying that what the other person did is okay; but rather, we are saying that God’s love and mercy is greater than our bad behavior or hurt feelings. For Christ’s sake we forgive others. It is not our work to forgive, it is Christ’s work in us through faith. This is why we forgive even while we suffer.
Fairness has nothing to do with it. If God were fair He’d let us die in or sins. But God is merciful and compassionate and overflowing with love so He sent His Son to die for us and take our sin upon Himself. That is what forgiveness does.
That said, when two people have a conflict there is a discipline that both affect forgiveness and restore the relationship and help to teach how we live as God’s people. Here is what that looks like at school and how you can reinforce the concept at home.
Whenever there is an incident between two children at school, we have them face each other and talk about the problem. Often times, it is a simple misunderstanding that has led to hurtful actions and hurt feelings. If one or more parties have heightened feelings of anger we give them time and help to calm themselves down before having the conversation. During the talk, we encourage the children to tell the other person how they feel or felt, and name what actions caused harm.
Children have a natural and innate desire to be part of the group and get along with others. They are often eager to rebuild the broken part of their friendship and return to play with the group. As such, even our youngest children are able to state the problem, address their feelings as well as the feelings of the other person and apologize. The culmination of this conversation is the act of forgiveness and we always ensure that the words “I forgive you” are always stated and that there is some physical contact, either a hug or high-five, to solidify the reconnection and the forgetting of the previous action.
This is certainly not learned immediately. As teachers, we model these conversations with and for our students. We engaged them when they have broken a rule and we will even discuss a problem with another adult to further model this act of forgiveness. We make sure that we too always close the conversation with the words “I forgive you” even if it is something small. Throughout their lives, children will need to forgive both small and large things of both people that they are close to, as well as strangers. If we begin this instruction in a safe environment with things that to us as adults may seem trivial, we build a foundation for the children that can carry them throughout their life.
You can be a part of this at home as well. You can begin by remembering that when Jesus was hanging on the cross, he forgave everyone around Him. This story, found in Luke chapter 23, is the perfect story to read with your child and discuss what it must have felt like for Jesus to do that. Also, remember to engage in conversations with your child when they say or do something inappropriate. Share your thoughts and feelings about what happened and encourage them to do the same. These conversations may not be comfortable at first, but, like anything, the more you practice, the better you will become, and always be sure to end the conversation with the words “I forgive you” and some sign of reconnection like a hug. Keep in mind that forgiveness is not our work, but God’s work through us. We can always ask God to help when we are struggling to forgive others by saying a prayer.
My prayer for all of you is that we learn to embrace the forgiveness that Christ has so generously bestowed on us and that we remember His grace allows us to forgive others as well as to instruct our children to do the same.