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Parents Room

The Challenge of Forgiveness

Feb 26 2020

How to coach our children well ?

Forgiveness – the gospel message par excellence. From receiving God’s forgiveness to forgiving our spouse, asking for forgiveness from our children and knowing how to forgive ourselves, there are many ways that this plays out in all our relationships.

How can we teach this precious value to our children? There is a risk of going too far by demanding an apology in an authoritarian or constraining way: “Apologise for this… Ask your brother for forgiveness for…”. While we think we are doing the right thing, we are often just in a hurry to end the argument as quickly as possible.

The child may apologise, but reluctantly. Even if, through gritted teeth, he says the ‘right’ words, the look in his eyes shows that his heart is not in it! Forced forgiveness has little educational value and it can even be counterproductive.

To truly impact our children, we need to first question our own hearts.

1) First of all, what kind of parent am-I? 

Do I blame myself and apologise as soon as my child is upset? Do I have trouble setting boundaries or establishing healthy authority? This lack of self-confidence reveals my insecurities and doubts. Deep down, am I afraid of losing the love of my children, for example?

Or am-I a strict parent? Uncompromising when it comes to principles and demanding flawless behaviour and apologies for the slightest lack of respect?

In both cases, you are more self-centred than child-centred!

2) Secondly, what is my attitude towards forgiveness? 

Do my children see me readily acknowledging my wrongs? With my spouse? With them?  For example, apologising when we have been unjustly angry with a child. We can also – and this is probably even more challenging – ask our children’s forgiveness for the choices we have made, or not made, (out of a lack of courage or selfishness, greed, ignorance, pride…) and that have had a negative impact on them. How much anger do these choices bury in the hearts of our children? Like a time bomb, this anger will often explode in adolescence without us having any understanding why.

But even if a hurting teenager looks like a raging dragon, adolescence is a second chance for parents. It’s still a chance to clear those wounds in the garden of their hearts. I’m sorry for having that attitude towards your mother/father. Sorry for not being there for you enough. Forgive me for making you carry too heavy a burden. Sorry for… 

Asking for forgiveness sets them free and is a loving thing to do. It allows them to enter their adult lives – and their future destiny – with their hearts unencumbered by the weight of these buried wounds.

3) Daring to change their mentality 

My attitude as a parent is influenced by my own past. The parent I am today has been deeply impacted by the parents I had, or didn’t have. However, as a child of God, I have changed my lineage – I have been adopted by God. I can take the relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit as my model; I can study what kind of father (or mother) God is to Israel and learn from His patience, correction, provision, encouragement, forgiveness and sacrifice. From now on, these are my new benchmarks for relationships.

By becoming a parent who applies this new structure and is humble, learning to probe my own heart, I will teach my child the real depth of forgiveness in a lasting and credible way. In turn, he will learn to come out of his shell and apologise for his wrongs on his own – first of all towards his neighbor, then to God.

However, this is not an innate behaviour. It is your mission to teach your child the way.

4) Ten key steps 

Here’s one way that may help and that you can adapt to suit the circumstances. Whether it’s fighting, arguments or shouting, as the parent you need to intervene!

1- Intervene, but not just any way

– Take a deep breath of the Holy Spirit.
Separate the two children who are fighting
– Go and speak kindly to each one separately
– Get down to the child’s level and look them in the eye…

2- Ask them what happened 

– “What’s going on?”
– “She came and destroyed my Lego tower”
– “And what did you do?”
– “I bit her.”

3- Encourage honesty 

– “It’s good that you have admitted to that.”

4- Validate – teach them to identify their emotions by putting them into words

– “I understand that it upset you. If I had been in your shoes, I would also have been very angry if someone (destroyed, …).”

This would be a good time for a comforting hug.

5- Be fair (no favouritism)

– “I’m going to talk to your sister and explain to her how upset you’ve been about…”

6- State your rules 

– “What you did/said to… was hurtful/painful/humiliating…”
– “Dad and I* don’t agree with you biting/doing/saying/acting like this when you’re angry!”

*Or the other way around. Name the other spouse, even if he or she may not be as involved as you would like.

7- Suggest a GOOD alternative (adapted to his/her age)

– “This is how I (we) would like you to act when you are angry… What you could do/say is…”

8- Help them to accept their share of responsibility

“Do you feel able to go and ask your sister for forgiveness for (specify)?” [If the child refuses, don’t force him or blame him.]
“Okay, I’ll give you some time to think about it. Go to your room, then come back and tell me what you decide.” [If necessary, talk to him later.]

Follow the same steps with the other child. Help him/her to understand his/her share of responsibility.

9- When they are feeling better, help them reconcile with each other

Always bring yourself to their level.

10- Congratulate each child individually for his or her progress

5) Look ahead to the future

And then?

Then you look up at the clock in dismay – all this was not on the agenda! Instead of a quick, frustrated “Say sorry now!”, you’ve just ‘lost’ 30 precious minutes.

In that half an hour, the phone beeped 10 times and the meal that was simmering has burnt. The eldest child still hasn’t started his homework and you already know you’re going to be late for your next appointment.

But who cares? You can proudly shrug your shoulders and make an omelette for dinner instead. You’ve just built the relationship world of tomorrow! This impromptu quality moment will build the child up and give him the keys to know how to manage conflict.

Recognising how one has been hurt is part of learning to respect and love oneself. Recognising how you hurt the other person and apologising is part of learning to respect and love your neighbour. A great step forward in their hearts for the kingdom of God.

Esther Pardini
Paris Campus