When I was a child my parents would often ask my brother and me to shake hands and “just forgive” each other when we had an argument. It was as if the “I forgive you” was the finishing touch of moving ahead to something else. As a result, I have come to think of forgiveness as a somewhat superficial way to solve problems. What do you suggest I now do as a father so that my children do not grow up with a superficial understanding of what it means to forgive?
Your sense is correct: How we teach our children about forgiveness may have some lasting impressions which remain with them into adulthood. I do not necessarily mean that no further understanding will develop. Instead I mean that the impressions created in childhood (forgiveness is important; forgiveness is unimportant; forgiveness is about loving others; forgiveness is like a quick handshake) remain long after childhood.
A key is this: Do not water-down what forgiveness is. Yes, simplify, but do not distort. For example, our first grade (in the USA) teacher/parent guide for forgiveness education (for 6-year-olds) teaches children that forgiveness:
1. occurs in the context of unfairness;
2. involves seeing the inherent worth of all, including those who hurt them;
3. involves the moral qualities of kindness, respect, generosity, and love;
4. does not necessarily include reconciling if the other is dangerous;
5. does not mean that we throw justice out the window.
This may seem like a lot to ask of 6-year-olds and it is. The teacher or parent teaches through stories such as Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who. The children are able to grasp all five concepts above and then to put them into action in the classroom and playground when peer conflicts arise. The instructional guides provide questions and answers for the children as the instructor reads each book.
The first-grade curriculum guide is available, along with guides from pre-kindergarten (age 4) through grade 11 (again, using the USA grade system) for age 16-17, in our Store.