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January 25, 2017
“Holding onto anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone while you’re the one getting burned.”

— attributed to the Buddha

Conflict with friends, siblings and parents — it’s part of our kids’ everyday lives. We teach the importance of making amends when they’ve hurt someone’s feelings. But what about when their feelings have been hurt? Even if they’ve received a proper apology, we tend to overlook the next step: forgiveness.

How do we teach our daughter to forgive the “mean girl” who didn’t invite her to a well-attended sleepover? How do we teach our son to forgive the class bully who tripped him as everyone lined up on the playground after gym class?

Step One: Make room for the emotions associated with whatever occurred. Are the kids upset, hurt, afraid? Help them identify their feelings (Naming Feelings) and then validate those feelings for them (“I can understand that you’d feel that way.”)

Step Two: Help them understand that the way they feel now — hurt or upset or angry — is no longer the result of the original offense (excluded from the sleepover, tripped on the playground), but from thinking about the offense. Teach them that it’s our thoughts that trigger our feelings and bring back the painful emotion. (This can be a tricky concept for kids before they have the mental capacity to understand it, about age ten or later.)

Step Three: Teach them that our painful emotions take up valuable “real estate” inside us if we hold on to them. That’s space we need for all the other emotions that allow us to feel good and enjoy our lives. Explain that we make room by fully feeling our emotions and then letting go of them. Letting go of hurt and anger is part of forgiving…and happens only if we make the decision to forgive.

Step Four: Explain that forgiving doesn’t mean we approve of an offender’s actions. It just means we’ve decided to move forward without letting the offender’s behavior continue to bog us down. Forgiveness is a way we’re good to ourselves.

Set your own example of forgiveness. Let your kids know when you’ve forgiven a friend or a family member after you’ve been hurt. And let them know — after they’ve spoken to you unkindly, and hopefully apologized — that you’ve forgiven them.