We have forgiveness education curriculum guides here at the International Forgiveness Institute, Inc.for children age 4 all the way up to adolescents ages 17 to 18. We help children and adolescents first understand forgiveness through stories, which are part of these curricula. You might consider once a week having a “Forgiveness Hour” in which you use the lessons from our curriculum guides. You also might consider even a 15 minute Family Forgiveness Forum once a week in which you discuss your own themes of forgiveness that week: How you are working on forgiving, what you are doing concretely to forgive, and how this is going for you.
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.
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. ♥
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.
Art Linkletter was a Canadian-born entertainer whose CBS radio and television show called House Party first aired shortly after the end of World War II and ran 5-days per week continuously for more than 25 years. The show’s best-remembered segment was a feature called “Kids Say the Darndest Things” in which Linkletter interviewed schoolchildren whose candid remarks provided some of his shows most precious, and hilarious, moments.
Like Linkletter, educational psychology professor Dr. Suzanne Freedman gathered lots of cute and insightful anecdotes when she recently taught two classes of 5th graders about inherent worth, moral love, kindness, respect, and generosity—the five basic components of forgiveness. Here are some of their unedited comments:
Forgiveness has made me more calm and given me more chances in life instead of death.
We are all the same when we take our skin off.
Don’t be mean to others. Even if people you know are mean to you, you can still be nice to them.
Forgiveness is one step closer to healing. When you forgive you can put it in the past.
I like forgiveness because it taught us how to not wait till it’s too late to forgive.
Forgiveness helped me be nicer to my brother and friends.
During the 27-year run of “Kids Say the Darndest Things,” Linkletter interviewed an estimated 23,000 children. The popularity of the segment led to a TV series with the same title, seven books (including Linkletter’s first book by the same title), spin-off TV shows in seven countries, and a number one record hit by country music superstar Tammy Wynette called “Kids Say the Darndest Things.”
On one of his more inspirational programs, Linkletter asked a four-year old if she knew how to pray. She immediately began saying the Our Father which included this nugget: “And forgive us our trash baskets as we forgive those who put trash in our baskets.”
Here are more of the darndest things kids like that little girl told Dr. Freedman:
You could always give a person that is mean to you a second chance because maybe the person that is being mean is having a bad day or got in an argument with their best friend.
Even though somebody is being mean to you, you could still forgive them.
It doesn’t matter if you are a different religion or have different colored eyes because everyone is the same person underneath.
When you have empathy you want to know how they feel and then you can put your feet in their shoes, and if you are getting bullied you can turn them into a friend by knowing how they feel.
Revenge is not part of forgiveness.
Dr. Freedman, a professor at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, Iowa, gathered those anecdotes while conducting a forgiveness education research project with two classes of 5th grade elementary school students attending a low-income school in a Midwestern community. She instructed each class for one 30-minute lesson each week for 10 weeks with two days of pre-testing and two days of post-testing. Each class was composed of 25 ten- and eleven-year-old students representing a diverse group of races and ethnicities.
Quantitative results from Dr. Freedman’s research project demonstrated that students increased significantly in their forgiveness toward a specific offender and showed significant increases in their knowledge of forgiveness from pre-test to post-test.
Qualitative results from the study illustrated that students both enjoyed and benefited from the forgiveness education curriculum. Specifically, when asked what they learned about forgiveness education, 14 students reported that the forgiveness education “helped them learn to forgive someone.” Other comments included: “I like forgiveness because in the future we will meet other people that we do not like but we still need to forgive them;” and; “It helps me forgive people when they make bad choices.”
“This study illustrates the potential of forgiveness education to improve elementary school students’ psychological well-being and interpersonal relations as well as the importance of including forgiveness education in the school curriculum,”according to Dr. Freedman.
“Students who learn how to forgive and decrease their anger in healthy ways will be less likely to be involved in bullying and other violent acts. This research is encouraging and needs to be replicated with additional populations of children and adolescents.”
One could add that the study proves kids do indeed say the darndest things. . .♥
We first have to realize that forgiveness belongs to those who rationally conclude that they have been wronged. Even if others say, “You have no right to forgive because there is no injustice here,” this does not mean that the children now are frozen in their decisions to forgive. Some, perhaps the majority, of children who have such a traumatic experience, may develop severe resentment. This resentment could destroy their lives in the future, even in the distant future because the damaging effects of resentment may not be manifested for years. So, if there is the poison of resentment and if the children, as they grow up, decide to forgive, they should do so. A question is whether they are able to identify specific people to forgive or whether they will end up forgiving a system and which system that will be.
Mad In America Foundation, Cambridge, MA –The more forgiving people are, the fewer symptoms of mental disorders they experience, according to a study published in theJournal of Health Psychology. The researchers suggested that teaching forgiveness, particularly at an early stage in one’s life, may be a valuable mental health early intervention strategy.
A team of four psychologists led by noted forgiveness researcherLoren Toussaint recruited 148 young adults from a Midwest liberal arts college for the 2014 study. The team’s analysis essentially confirmed the rationale and methodology being used by Dr. Robert Enrightfor the past 17 years to teach his Forgiveness Education Programsto children in countries around the world.
The researchers wrote that their findings “show for the first time that forgivingness is a strong, independent predictor of mental and physical health…” Specifically, regardless of the types and levels of stresses the participants reported, the researchers found greater forgiving tendencies linked to fewer negative mental health symptoms.“Forgivingness” is a general tendency to forgive; it does not assess the degree of actual forgiving toward people who acted unjustly. . .
“[W]e found that lifetime stress severity was unrelated to mental health for persons who were highest in forgivingness and most strongly related to poorer mental health for participants exhibiting the lowest levels of forgivingness,” wrote the researchers.
The researchers did not study how or why this correlation may exist, but hypothesized that “forgiving individuals may have a more adaptive or extensive repertoire of coping strategies and that forgivingness may facilitate healthier behaviors in the aftermath of major life stress.”
“To the extent that forgiveness training can promote a more forgiving coping style, then these interventions may help reduce stress-related disease and improve human health. Such interventions may be particularly beneficial when delivered as a prevention strategy in early life, before individuals are exposed to major adulthood life stressors,” the researchers concluded.
Dr. Enright, founder of the International Forgiveness Institute, began teaching Forgiveness Education 17-years ago in six grade-school classrooms in Belfast, Northern Ireland. While that program is still operating in Belfast, the Forgiveness Education Curriculum Guides developed by Dr. Enright and his associates for students in Pre-School through 12th Grade, are now in use in more than 30 countries around the world including Liberia, Ghana and Nigeria (West Africa), Kenya and Rwanda (Africa), Colombia and Brazil (South America), Israel, Palestine, and Iran (Middle East), China and the Philippines (Asia), Greece and the Czech Republic (Europe), as well as Canada, Mexico and the US. ♥
TheMad in America Foundationis a not-for-profit organization whose “mission is to serve as a catalyst for rethinking psychiatric care in the United States (and abroad). We believe that the current drug-based paradigm of care has failed our society, and that scientific research, as well as the lived experience of those who have been diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder, calls for profound change.”
Resources on the International Forgiveness Institute website:
It is perfectly legitimate to forgive someone who hurts a family member when you have been hurt by that action. You need not wait until your brother forgives because you are free to offer forgiveness whenever you are ready. Your forgiving the teacher may show your brother that it is possible.