It might be worth our while to move beyond “I’m sorry” as the be-all and end-all goal of conflict resolution for children. To raise happier children, we should take steps that lead to a lot more “I forgive you’s.”
That’s one of the dramatic take-aways of a just-completed study by three researchers at Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands. In a sample of 275 nine- to 13-year-olds who completed self-reported and behavioral measures of forgiveness and various indicators of psychological well-being, the study found that forgiveness can help children maintain strong relationships and improve psychological well-being.
According to the authors, it’s long been known that peer and friendship relations in late childhood play an essential role in children’s social, emotional, and cognitive development. The research shows that friendships are associated with a greater sense of well-being, better self-esteem, and fewer social problems, both concurrently and later in life.
In contrast, children and adolescents who lack close friendships are more likely to manifest behavioral and emotional problems during childhood and even adulthood. Children who are less forgiving have lower self-esteem, are more socially anxious, and are more likely to engage in deviant behaviors.
The study also emphasized the need for early childhood forgiveness education, particularly during stages in which friendships are most important, such as in early childhood when children start to untie their parental bonds and increasingly focus on relationships with peers. In late adolescence, when the emphasis shifts from friendships to partner relationships, or during adulthood, when individuals spend less time with their friends, the association between forgiving friends and well-being may be weaker.
Does Forgiveness Make Kids Happier?
⇒ An article in Greater Good, the Science of a Meaningful Life
Interpersonal Forgiveness and Psychological Well-being in Late Childhood ⇒ Access to the complete study
Why We Need Forgiveness Education. . .NOW
⇒ A blog post by Dr. Robert Enright