How to Gradually Introduce Kids to the Idea of Forgiveness — and Why You Should

Greater Good Magazine, University of California, Berkeley – “Because conflict is inevitable, teaching children about forgiveness early on. . .may indeed be a path toward building communities of people who prize and cultivate peace.”

The advice outlined in the paragraph above is provided by Maryam Abdullah, Ph.D., Parenting Program Director of the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley. She is a developmental psychologist with expertise in parent-child relationships and children’s development of prosocial behaviors.

Image courtesy of Greater Good Science Center

Ironically, Dr. Abdullah’s advice (published March 26, 2019) is what Dr. Robert Enright, forgiveness researcher and educator who co-founded the International Forgiveness Institute, has been telling parents, educators, and peace activists for nearly 20 years. 

In 2002, Dr. Enright established his first forgiveness education program at Ligoniel Primary School in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Belfast provided an obvious location for forgiveness education because of the  widely-known “Troubles” in Northern Ireland during the late 20th century that resulted in more than 3,600 deaths with thousands more injured during 30-years of conflict. That was 17-years ago; the Belfast program has flourished, expanded, and continues to this day.


Young kids can learn the building blocks of forgiveness and develop them as they get older.
Maryam Abdullah, Ph.D.,
Greater Good Science Center


In her Greater Good article, Dr. Abdullah outlines some of the benefits that forgiveness programs offer kids “ranging from more empathy and hope to less anger, hostility, aggression, anxiety and depression. After learning forgiveness, some children even perform better at school, have fewer conduct problems and delinquency, and feel more positive about their parents and teachers.”

Dr. Abdullah also describes, based on Dr. Enright’s insights from three decades of researching  and implementing forgiveness programs, how parents can set the stage for forgiveness in their very young children and start building their forgiveness skills as they become young adults:

“Ages 4-5. Before introducing young children to the subtleties of forgiveness, you can first introduce them to the concept of love—caring for the other for the sake of the other. For example, you can do this by reading picture books to your children in which there are loving family interactions.

Ages 6-7. Starting at about age 6, children have the capacity for what Jean Piaget called concrete operational reasoning, meaning that they now can understand the causes and effects of people’s actions. Because of this advance in reasoning in young children, you now can begin to introduce forgiveness systematically.”

The article continues with five very specific and sequential steps parents can take over several years to help young children become rather sophisticated in their understanding and practice of forgiveness before moving on to other age-appropriate forgiveness skills.

The bottom line for parents, as Dr. Enright has been saying for the past 17 years,  is that you can help your kids grow up to be more peaceful and forgiving adults which will make our families, our communities and our societies more peaceful and forgiving.

Read the complete article: How to Gradually Introduce Kids to the Idea of Forgiveness.

Read more GGSC articles:
 Why Kids Need to Learn How to Forgive.
⋅  8 Keys to Forgiveness


Greater Good Magazine is published by the Greater Good Science Center (GGSC). Since 2001, the GGSC has been at the fore of a new scientific movement to explore the roots of happy and compassionate individuals, strong social bonds, and altruistic behavior–the science of a meaningful life. Dr. Abdullah’s role at the GGSC is to support organizations providing parenting education and to share the latest parenting science findings on the Greater Good website.

I have challenged the importance of forgiveness in my previous questions. Thank you for your thoughtful replies. I have one final question for you regarding my skepticism about forgiveness. It seems to me that as I try to forgive, the other receives all of the “getting” and I, stupidly, do all of the “giving.” Am I correct in saying that there is no balance here?

Because forgiving is centered in the moral virtue of mercy, you, as a forgiver, do have an interest in alleviating the other’s pain or even misery, caused in part by the unfair behavior. Thus, you are right that in forgiving you are “giving.” Yet, here is where I think your reasoning has a fallacy. You are thinking in “either/or” terms. By this I mean that you seem to be reasoning this way: Either I forgive or I seek fairness, but I do not do both. Under this circumstance, yes, you are right, to forgive is to be a giver who may not get anything back. Yet, I would urge you to think in “both/and” ways. As you forgive, then seek justice. In this way, you are both giving and seeking to right a wrong, or get something back that is important to you and possibly to your relationship with the other person. This balances forgiving and justice and thus you are not “stupid” when you forgive.

For additional information, see: Forgiveness: An Offshoot of Love.

I can understand how forgiveness is part of philosophy and theology, but I am having a hard time seeing how forgiveness can be placed into the scientific arena. After all, this is a highly abstract concept. How can it be studied scientifically?

Forgiveness is not the only abstract concept studied scientifically. The theme of justice also is abstract and has been part of the scientific landscape since at least 1932 when Jean Piaget began his work on children’s and adolescents’ understanding of justice. Gratitude is another abstract construct that is studied in the social sciences. We can study forgiveness because it is possible to define forgiveness in such a way as to make it concretely measurable. For example, we have the Enright Forgiveness Inventory which assesses the degree to which participants forgive one other person who was unfair to them. We categorize forgiving in this scale into 6 dimensions: the degree to which the participant 1) harbors negative thoughts and 2) negative feelings, and 3) exhibits negative behaviors toward the unjustly acting person; the degree to which the participant shows 4) positive thoughts and 5) positive feelings, and 6) exhibits positive behaviors toward the unjustly acting person. We are able to get a score for each participant. Science shows that when people go through forgiveness intervention programs, then their forgiveness scores on this scale tend to increase. People with high scores on this scale tend to show better mental and physical health than people who have very low scores on this forgiveness scale.

For additional information, see: Forgiveness Research.

Man Forgives New Zealand Mosque Shooter Who Killed His Wife

Metro.co.uk; London, England, UK – Fifty people were killed and another 50 wounded when three gunmen entered two different mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch and opened fire on March 15. Three days later, a disabled man who lost his wife in the horrific mass shooting, insisted that he holds no ill feelings towards the killers and that he has forgiven the man responsible for his wife’s death.

“I lost my wife, but I don’t hate the killer,”59-year-old Farid Ahmed declared, referring to the Australian man arrested and charged with murder after the rampage. “As a person, I love him. I cannot support what he did. But I think somewhere along in his life, maybe he was hurt. But he could not translate that hurt into a positive manner.”

Farid’s wife, Husna, 44, died a hero after helping worshippers escape from the mosque and then being shot in the back when she returned to help her husband who is wheelchair-bound. Farid is a leader at the Mosque where Husna taught childrens’ classes.

When asked by a news reporter how he felt about the person who killed his wife, Ahmed said. “I love that person because he is a human, a brother of mine. Maybe he was hurt, maybe something happened to him in his life … but the bottom line is, he is a brother of mine. I have forgiven him, and I am sure if my wife was alive she would have done the same thing.” 

“I don’t have any grudge against him,” Ahmed added. “I have forgiven him, and I am praying for him that God will guide him.”


Comments praising Farid Ahmed for his grace and courage have been pouring in on Facebook and other social media outlets:

“Wow, you are inspiring sir, we need more people in this world like you,
The power of forgiveness is more powerful than hatred.”


The Christchurch mosque shootings were actually two consecutive terrorist attacks at mosques in New Zealand’s largest city. The attacks began at the Masjid Al Noor Mosque in the suburb of Riccarton at1:40 pm and continued at the Linwood Islamic Centre 15 minutes later. Nine of those shot are still hospitalized in critical condition, including a four-year-old girl.

Candles arranged in a heart shape, at Christchurch’s Botanic Gardens, burn for victims of the mosque shootings. Image: The Globe and Mail

The attacks, launched during Friday Prayers when both mosques were packed,  were livestreamed via a camera strapped to the perpetrator. Horrific images of bloodshed and people desperately trying to evade the gunman were copied and shared on social media sites including YouTube. Facebook  has said it removed 1.5m videos of the attack in the first 24 hours.

Thousands of people gathered in Christchurch last Sunday to listen to prayers, songs and speeches at a vigil to remember the 50 people killed in the terrorist attacks. City officials estimated that 40,000 people attended.

Read the entire story: Extraordinary forgiveness of man whose wife was killed in New Zealand mosque terror attack.

Additional News Coverage: ‘I am Praying for Him’: Muslim Man Who Lost His Wife in Christchurch Shooting Forgives Murderous Attacker.

Watch Time magazine’s video news coverage of the vigil, survivor interviews, and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s call for a ban on semi-automatic rifles in New Zealand.

You keep calling forgiveness a “moral virtue” and then automatically conclude that it is good. I don’t see it that way. To me, forgiveness is an evolved biological survival mechanism to keep people from killing each other. In other words, your calling forgiveness a “moral virtue” is a cognitive illusion to make it sound more special than it actually is. If you see it as a biological advance along the evolutionary continuum, it seems then to reduce the high value you place on it. What do you think?

Let us suppose for a moment that you are correct. Even if you are correct, this does not mean that people **automatically** forgive as if this is some kind of an instinct. People still have to:

  • cognitively understand that to forgive is to be good to those who are not good to them;
  • decide to appropriate forgiveness, making it a choice, not an automatic response;
  • struggle to forgive. It takes effort and even some pain to be good in this context;
  • understand that there are no guarantees from the other that reconciliation will occur and occur well.

Do you see that to forgive still is something that is slowly formed within a person as good, comes out as a heroic choice, moves forward as kindness toward others, and is done even if it will not lead to others stopping their destructive behavior? If you see this, then what words other than “moral virtue” would you use? If this only is an evolved biological mechanism, then why do so many people not understand what forgiveness is and refuse to forgive? It seems to me that if forgiving were an evolved biological action, then we would see more people engaging in it and without such a struggle to complete it well.

For additional information, see: What is Forgiveness?

You say that one reason why forgiving is good is because it could get the attention of the one who acted wrongly. Yet, what if the forgiveness never does get the other’s attention? It then seems to me that you have wasted your time in forgiving.

Forgiving when properly understood and willingly chosen to practice is never a waste of time. This is the case because, as a moral virtue, forgiveness is good in and of itself. In other words, when a person finds the strength and courage to be respectful, kind, generous, and even loving toward other people, even when they behave badly, this is a heroic act. Of course, we have to make a distinction here between forgiving and reconciling. Automatic reconciliation which could be dangerous for the forgiver is not wise. To unconditionally forgive, offering goodness while “watching one’s back,” is good because all moral virtues are good.

For additional information, see: Why Forgive?

Thank you for answering my earlier question about the advantages of forgiveness. It seems to me that if a person forgives to feel better, that is just a selfish move. It is all about “me.” So, I still am skeptical.

There is a difference between a selfish act and a self-serving act. A selfish act tends to ignore others’ legitimate needs. For example, Person A takes Person B’s money so that Person A can gamble with it. This deprives Person B of those funds that rightfully belong to Person B. In contrast, suppose Person A has to break a date with Person B because Person A hurt his knee and has to go to an Urgent Care facility for treatment. This is not selfish, but a healthy self-serving activity because of the damaged knee. There is no intention of depriving anyone, as was the case with our gambling example.

Forgiving to rid the self of excessive anger or depression is not depriving others of anything. It is self-serving because of the hurting heart that needs rehabilitation. Forgiving for this reason is not necessarily the exclusive reason people use when forgiving, but sometimes it is the place people start because they are so hurting inside. Forgiveness is good medicine for such hurts and so is not selfish in this context.

For additional information, see: How Forgiveness Can Change Your Life.