Thursday, April 14, 2016

Teaching Forgiveness: The Practice of Saying I'm Sorry

My 4 and 10 year old were in the car the other day.  It was about 15 minutes after some sort of brawl (which are unfortunately common in our household of six). My 10 year old was sick and my 4 year old was…well… being a 4 year old.  What happened with the brawl doesn’t matter, but needless to say I was showing the strain of multiple days with sick kids and I was feeling less than charitable myself.  We were sitting quietly at the stoplight on the way to get the other kiddos at school when 4 year old Anna broke the silence. 

“Shashah?” (that is what she calls him), “I sowwy”.  

He responded “It’s okay.  I forgive you”.

All of the strain and exhaustion left me with that simple exchange.  She was FOUR YEARS OLD and she knew that she was in the wrong – for whatever it was.  She knew he was hurting because of what she did.  She knew how to make it better. 

It isn’t because she is an exceptionally tender child or because she is intellectually brilliant.  It isn't because her mom is trained as a child development expert. It is because she has seen the behavior modeled in our family and she knows how to repair a relationship. 

Psychologists will warn parents not to “make” kids say they are sorry until they can really understand the concept of what it means to be sorry for their actions.  When our older kids were young I tried hard not to force the "I am sorry".  By the time Anna came around, the other kids were modeling the behavior and she was expected (by them) to apologize when she made a mistake. Because of this she has picked up this concept of reconciliation and forgiveness better than any of them!

We haven't always, but in our family we now require apologies when someone is wronged.  They don't have to be elaborate, and they don't have to happen right away, but they need to happen once the kids are calmed down. I don’t think you can expect a 4 year old to apologize for pulling her sister's hair when they are both still hysterical… but once the tears are wiped away there is a  practice of reconciliation that must happen between the two parties. Whomever is in the wrong (usually both of them) need to apologize for their actions and ask for forgiveness. Kids don't always want to do the right thing.  That is one of the reasons why parents are so important.  We have to teach them. 

"He who knows how to forgive prepares for himself many graces from God" -St. Faustina

Saying your sorry isn't a big deal - unless you never learn to do it. 

We need to give even our youngest children the babysteps towards understanding what it means to say sorry, and that starts with the words “I am sorry” and “I forgive you”, coming from our mouths. Some of you are pretty close to perfect, but we are all bound to make a mistake every once in a while. When that happens you too need to fess up. Apologize for tugging a little hard when you comb through those tangles, apologize when you mix up the lunches, apologize when you knock over the books or keep a child waiting when they need something.    

Children are like little sponges soaking up words, attitudes and behaviors. They model everything, cognitive, social, and emotional behaviors alike.  When the whole family adopts a behavior and the children practice it, they eventually internalize the actions.  The younger they start, the more normal it becomes. 

Just as we require the kids to eat their veggies and brush their teeth and wear a seat belt, we too should require them to do things like apologize - to both seek out and provide forgiveness.

Families are a beautiful place to model forgiveness and parents set a great example of mercy in practice. Setting up a culture of forgiveness in your home has both short term and long term benefits.  The practice of asking for and receiving forgiveness is more that just a life long habit too.  For Catholics, the art of forgiveness is enriched through the sacrament of reconciliation and is soul-saving.  As St. Gregory of Nyssa said, "May we never risk the life of our souls by being resentful or by bearing grudges".  For now take little steps.  Say your are sorry.  Encourage your little ones to make amends and forgive freely, and prepare yourself for the many graces of God that come from this practice.  

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...