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.

What Is the Difference: Our Forgiveness Proposals vs Social Justice Proposals for the Imprisoned?

Plato reminds us in The Republic that justice is giving people what is deserved.  This can include both rewards and punishments.  If Person A offers $100 to Person B for building a table, the receipt of the $100 by Person B upon the successful completion of the table is fair or just.  If Person C is guilty of a traffic violation and the rules of the city require any violator of this kind to be fined $100, then it is fair or just if Person C gives up $100.

Plato’s The Republic is a “Socratic dialogue” concerning justice, the just city-state, and the just man. Written in 380 BC, The Republic essentially consists of its main character—Socrates—discussing the meaning and nature of justice with his upper-class Athenian (Greek) friends. The central takeaway from The Republic, and the one that still resonates to this day, is that justice is desirable because of its consequences.
• Click the illustration to read The Republic.

Social justice, while not always defined in the same way by all advocates of this approach, basically centers on equality of outcome.  For example, suppose a pizza establishment will not deliver in a neighborhood in which there is high crime and two of their delivery people were killed trying to make deliveries there in the past year.

Because innocent people in that neighborhood are not treated the same as people in safer neighborhoods, this may be considered unjust by social justice standards.  Why?  It is because the innocent need an equal outcome, successful delivery of pizzas, compared to those in safer neighborhoods.  That the risk for the deliverers is not deserved is not an issue here.  For the classical sense of justice, what do the deliverers deserve?  They deserve to be safe in terms of laws of probability for being safe.  For the new social sense of justice, what do the deliverers deserve?  Actually, the deliverers are not the focus now.  The focus is on those who have no equality of ordering pizzas.  There is a decided shift to one particular group and the emphasis on equality of outcome for them.

Now we are ready to show the difference between social justice for the imprisoned and forgiveness interventions for them.  In social justice and in forgiveness, we both might focus, for example, on the childhood of Person D, who was abused by his father and now Person D has abused three children, for which he is arrested.  Social justice, in focusing on his childhood, might have people see that Person D is not fully to blame for his actions, but instead his unfortunate background must mitigate the length of his sentence so that he is not unequally behind bars compared to others who were not abused and are not behind bars.  The quest in this particular case is to alter the sentence and thus the time served.

For our forgiveness program, as we, too, focus on Person D’s horrendously unjust childhood, we try to help Person D, if he chooses, to forgive his father for his deep injustices.  This process of forgiveness might reduce Person D’s rage and thus reduce his motivation to hurt others in the future.  We do not suggest that justice now be altered.  We focus on inner healing and not on altering the time he is to serve in prison.  Justice in its classical sense is served in the forgiveness programs, while that classical sense of justice is not served when social justice is considered, at least in the example given here.

There is a substantial difference between forgiveness as a rehabilitation strategy for those in prison and the call to alter the sentence in social justice.  If there is a call to reduce sentences without the concomitant attempt to eliminate rage, one has to wonder how just this solution is.  Perhaps it is time to fold forgiveness interventions into the quest for social justice so that these work together.  When a reduced sentence is going to occur, then it seems wise that the rage within first is reduced.

Robert

The Idea of Forgiveness Lives On

Two recent experiences have prompted me to reflect on this: Forgiveness as an idea for all of humanity is powerful and so such an idea tends to persevere across time and not wither.

For the first example, I unexpectedly received on Facebook a message from a person who coaches people before they give Ted Talks.  His name is Brendan Fox and he had this message for me in the context of forgiveness for sexual abuse victims/survivors:

“Hi, Robert! Hope all is well. I just wanted to let you know that I read your book, and I watched one of your online lectures. I think your work is so good for the world. Recently, I coached a Ted Talk featuring a sex trafficking survivor. Your work was hugely influential in inspiring the talk and message (as you’ll see). I wanted to credit you, and share it with you, because I think this represents part of your legacy, and how you are making the world a better place (in many indirect ways!). I’m rooting for you in the Game of Life!”

Here is a link to the talk to which Brendan refers.  The video (10:21) is quite inspirational: Escaping the Pain of Human Trafficking Markie Dell.

I find Brendan’s message and the video very interesting in this: Suzanne Freedman, whose blog on forgiveness education we recently posted here, and I had an idea in the mid-1990’s that a forgiveness intervention might be helpful for women who have been sexually abused.  At the time, this idea was exceptionally controversial.  People thought that we were saying this, “Oh, you were abused?  Forgive and go back into that situation.”  No.  This is not what forgiveness is at all.  A person can forgive, rid the self of toxic resentment and hatred, and not reconcile.  Suzanne’s ground-breaking forgiveness intervention with incest survivors was important in helping the social scientific world see the importance of forgiveness interventions.

That study was published in 1996, almost a quarter of a century ago: Freedman, S. R., & Enright, R. D. (1996).  Forgiveness as an intervention goal with incest survivors.  Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 64(5), 983-992.

After almost a quarter of a century later, Suzanne’s ideas live on and are helping people to heal from extreme injustices against them.  If we can get this far with forgiveness in the face of grave sexual abuse, perhaps there is a place for forgiveness in other areas of woundedness, such as helping people who have no homes, who are living on the streets, to forgive those who have crushed their hearts.  Will this aid their recovery?  Jacqueline Song of our International Forgiveness Institute is taking the lead right now on this question.

Here is the second of our two examples regarding the staying-power and influence of forgiveness.  In 2002, a team of us decided to start what we now call forgiveness education with children.  We reasoned this way:  If we can help children learn about forgiveness and how to forgive, then  when they are adults, they will have the tool of forgiveness for combating the potentially unhealthy effects of unjust treatment against them. 

These students at Ligoniel Primary School in Belfast, Northern Ireland, are learning about forgiveness at the same school where Dr. Enright’s Forgiveness Education Curriculum Guides were first used more than 17 years ago.

We developed forgiveness education guides for grades 1 and 3 (Primary 3 and 5 in Belfast, Northern Ireland) and we brought these guides to the principal, Claire Hilman, and the teachers at Ligoniel Primary School in Belfast.  Claire said yes and so we launched forgiveness education there as the first place in the world where there is a deliberate curriculum to teach forgiveness, about once a week for 12 to 15 weeks.  The program has expanded to include pre-kindergarten (age 4) all the way through 12th grade (this is a designation in the United States and includes ages 17-18).  These forgiveness education guides have been requested now by educators in over 30 countries. 

Just recently, Belfast had its almost 2-week annual 4Corners Festival.  The theme for 2019 was “Scandalous Forgiveness.”  The term “scandalous” was inserted as an adjective because, even in 2019, some people consider the act of forgiving others to be outrageous and inappropriate.  The point of the festival was to gently challenge that thinking and try to fold themes of forgiveness into the fabric of Belfast society.

I gave a talk on February 1, 2019 at this 4Corners Festival.  When Mr. Edward Petersen of the Clonard Monastery introduced me to the audience prior to my talk, he stated that the theme for this year’s festival was inspired by our 17-year presence of supporting Belfast teachers in their forgiveness education efforts.  We started in 2002 and an inspiration by community organizers blossomed in 2019, many years after we first planted the idea of forgiveness education in Belfast.  The idea of forgiveness lives on and now expands city-wide because of the vision and wisdom of the 4Corners Festival organizers.

Forgiveness: it does not wither.  It survives over time and grows.  I think it does so because forgiveness gives life.  Forgiveness unites people in families and communities where injustices could divide.

The idea of forgiveness lives on, and for good reason.

Robert

Dr. Enright Shares Forgiveness News with Audiences Around the World

The man Time magazine called “the forgiveness trailblazer” because of his groundbreaking forgiveness research, has just returned from a five-week international speaking tour during which he provided specialized  forgiveness workshops and presentations to such diverse audiences as prison administrators and correctional facility innovators, cancer doctors and oncology specialists, and educational pioneers. 

Dr. Robert Enright

Dr. Robert Enright, forgiveness researcher and educator who co-founded the International Forgiveness Institute, travels globally twice per year to respond to at least a handful of the innumerable requests that flow into his office on an almost daily basis.

In addition to private meetings in some of the more than 30 countries where he has helped establish elementary and high school Forgiveness Education Programs in the past few years, his formal presentation schedule on this most-recent tour included stops at Ramat Gan, Israel; Bratislava, Slovakia; and Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Those presentations included:

  • “Forgiveness Therapy for The Imprisoned: From Practice to Research Outcomes” on January 9 during the Restorative Justice, Forgiveness, and Prisoners Conference at Bar Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel–a short distance from Tel Aviv.

  • “Forgiveness Therapy for Patients with Multiple Myeloma and Other Blood Cancers,” on Jan. 16 (World Cancer Day 2019) during the Sympozium Integrativna Onkologia at the Slovak Academy of Sciences in Bratislava–the capital of the Slovak Republic.
  • “Forgiveness Education for Our Students” on Feb. 1 during the 12-day forgiveness-focused extravaganza in Belfast, Northern Ireland called the 4Corners Festival that ran from Jan. 30 through Feb. 10. The theme for the 2019 Festival was  “Scandalous Forgiveness.” Dr. Enright selected Belfast as the first city in which he would test his forgiveness education curriculum methodology. That was 17-years ago and the Program continues to this day.

Read More:

Syrian children have watched their parents die or have assisted in carrying out their parents’ bodies.  What would you advise for these children?

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.

For additional information, see Healing Hearts, Building Peace.

How can I say, “I forgive you” to a system that has oppressed my people for a long time.  I am a “person of color” and it is my understanding that to forgive involves a concrete, flesh-and-blood other person.  This is not the case with a system.

You are correct that you are unable to say directly to a system, “I forgive you.”  It sometimes is the same with concrete, “flesh and blood” other people.  For example, you can forgive from your heart without words to a person who abandons you, whom you now cannot see.  When you forgive a system it can be from the heart and from the actions you take toward that system.  After all, systems are made up of people and people create norms that can be hurtful to some groups in that system.  So, you are able to forgive the system if this is your choice.  It is more abstract than forgiving one concrete, “flesh and blood” other person, but you can extend kindness and generosity to  the unseen others who established and continue with unfair norms.  Of course, this does not mean that you give up the quest for justice.  Forgiveness and justice exist side by side.

For additional information, see How to Forgive.

New Desmond Tutu film – “The Forgiven” – Addresses Segregation, Apartheid, Forgiveness

Screen Africa, Johannesburg, South Africa – Unflinchingly accurate in its depiction of South Africa’s tumultuous  political history, The Forgiven is a powerful film that one critic described as “the ultimate testament to the power of forgiveness and finding common ground in our humanity.”

While it has been two decades since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission focused international attention on South Africa’s violent history of racial segregation, director Roland Joffé’s new film returns to that time to grapple with the terrible truths of apartheid and its legacy.

Based on Michael Ashton’s play The Archbishop and the AntichristThe Forgiven is a fictionalized account of Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s efforts as the head of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in an attempt to heal and unite South Africa. It was released worldwide in October.

Explaining the reasoning behind the film, Joffé says: “This is a subject that’s both social and political but also rather personal, because let’s be honest, we’ve all done things in our lives that we need forgiveness for, that we haven’t come to terms with. We’re all prisoners of our history, whether it’s social, cultural or family.”

The drama follows Archbishop Desmond Tutu, masterfully portrayed by Forest Whitaker, and his struggle – morally and intellectually –with brutal murderer and member of a former apartheid-era hit squad Piet Blomfeld (Eric Bana), over redemption and forgiveness. The film was shot completely in and around Cape Town, including at one of the world’s most dangerous prison facilities, Pollsmoor Maximum Security Prison.


“The film is a tribute to the remarkable and healing power of forgiveness and the outstanding compassion and courage of those who offered love and forgiveness as an antidote to hate and inhumanity.”
Desmond Tutu


The Archbishop himself has given the project his blessing, saying: “This timely, compelling and intelligent film, movingly, and above all humanely, captures what it felt like to be working with those selfless members of the TRC who strove, often against the odds, to help bring both truth and reconciliation to the ordinary people of South Africa.  This is not only a film about a certain time and place, it is a pean of hope to humanity at large.”