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Teaching Kids Forgiveness: 5 Ways To Demonstrate The Art Of Compassion

Caroline Maguire, M.Ed.
Author and child care expert By Caroline Maguire, M.Ed.
Author and child care expert
Caroline Maguire, M.Ed., is an author of Why Will No One Play with Me?: The Play Better Plan to Help Children of All Ages Make Friends and Thrive and child care expert who primarily works with ADHD children and families.
Kids in a bed hugging
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Connection is akin to love. It is one of the most vital and necessary elements of human existence. In fact, our happiness is reliant on the health of our relationships and the ability to assign meaning to our challenges. Our role as parents is to demonstrate to our children how we navigate the tough times, adapt to conflict, and ultimately come out on the other side stronger and with a better understanding of ourselves and others.

The inevitable roadblocks that life throws our way are perfect opportunities to show our children how to be present, how to face challenges, and how to grow through them. By modeling forgiveness and healing, we give our children a road map to help them develop grit, perseverance, and the ability to hold our heads high during strife. Difficulties are inevitable, but the way we handle them becomes our children's future goals and milestones. 

5 ways to demonstrate the art of forgiveness.

Going through these exercises in front of our kids helps them learn and grow and can also give you the impetus needed to do the right thing: 

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1. Choose to forgive.

Forgiveness starts with a choice. It doesn't mean condoning or not holding someone accountable. The choice to forgive means you refuse to allow someone else to control your thoughts, feelings, relationships, or actions. It is your decision, when you are ready, to take your personal power back and not allow someone else to have power over you.

Talk about forgiveness with your children. Share with them your journey. By letting go of the emotional baggage grievances and hurt can create, you illustrate the gift of healing and forgiveness. 

2. Be present.

Our thoughts affect how we feel and ultimately behave. Most of our time is spent ruminating over the past or planning for the future. When we're in the moment—where life is happening now—we tune in to our thoughts and check in with ourselves. Understanding where we are allows us to thoughtfully respond and adapt. In addition, being present with the ones we love is also the best way to live life with the fewest regrets. Build time into the family schedule to be present and to connect and share, without devices and distractions. 

3. Practice forgiveness every day.

Most of us think about forgiveness as a monumental task that relates to major upsets. In reality, forgiveness is an everyday necessity that is crucial to cultivating healthy and meaningful connections. Whether you feel a pang of discomfort from a small daily hurt or have endured a major betrayal, name it, then speak to yourself about forgiving and letting it go. Demonstrate how the act of forgiveness can help you move through the hurt, find healing, and end up physically, mentally, and emotionally strengthened.  

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4. Call on courage.

It isn't easy to let go of an offense, especially when the person who hurt you isn't sorry, or worse, doesn't care. Courage is the willingness and ability to face our fear and discomfort rather than resisting or avoiding it.

Experts tell us that courage is like a muscle and we can practice it to make it stronger. How? We can use positive affirmations to help us reframe negative thinking and get us back on track: I am capable. I am worthy. I am enough. I choose love

5. Model and learn to cope with emotions.

Monkey see, monkey do. Our children look to us as models. How we cope with anger, talk about grievances, choose to forgive, and cope with daily disappointments is likely how our children will cope with them. Building our own social and emotional intelligence—the ability to identify, manage, and express our emotions in productive and healthy ways—provides our children with a path forward. It's important that we remain aware that our children are learning from us in every situation so that we continue to rise to each occasion and offer the best version of ourselves. 

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We can't always choose what happens to us, but we can choose how to respond. 

Ultimately, we want to raise empowered children who are able to thoughtfully respond to situations. It is up to us to decide when or whether we should let go of grievances while staying true to who we are. When we understand that we are strengthened by each challenge, we cultivate the courage to live life wholeheartedly and choose love over fear. 

It takes courage when we are beginning to understand the power of forgiveness. The fear is that we will be offering a gift to someone undeserving, that we will be condoning bad behavior or giving up our righteous position. In reality, forgiveness is simply taking our personal power back.

Although forgiveness is the most effective way to reduce and move beyond the pain, it takes bravery to forgive when we are hurting. Acknowledging the discomfort and purposefully and mindfully choosing to see through to the greatness within each other will model courage and forgiveness for our children's relationships.

This article was written with Scarlett Lewis, founder of the nonprofit Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement, which she created after her son's murder in the Sandy Hook tragedy in 2012. Through it, she advocates for social-emotional learning and character education. She's the author of Nurturing Healing Love: A Mother's Journey of Hope & Forgiveness, a memoir of her journey toward choosing love and forgiveness. The Movement's Choose Love for Schools Program is a no-cost, comprehensive SEL and character development program, empowering educators and students to choose love, handle adversity, and manage their emotions. Choose Love programming is extended into homes, communities, athletics, and the workplace and has been accessed in all 50 states and 110 countries.

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