How to Teach Your Children to Forgive

Image via Katie Hurley

Forgiveness is a skill.  It is taught by example and requires practice.  Forgiveness is also a choice.  In making the choice to forgive another, you recognize that life is larger than any single incident and that letting go of negative feelings frees you from becoming emotionally stuck.

To truly forgive another is to break free from anger and hurt.

Some children are forgiving by nature.  They move on quickly, preferring to play and create happiness instead.  But other kids dig in their heels when they’ve been wronged.  They don’t want to forgive; they want to play alone instead. 

It’s understandable.  Children experience various emotions throughout the day, and sometimes they just need to move away instead of move on. 

Taking the time to teach your child the art of forgiveness is important.  There will always be times when something feels unfair or someone makes a choice that leaves you feeling angry and hurt.  To hold onto those feelings is to experience stress and isolation.  To let go and move on is to learn to cope with the ups and downs of life.

When children learn to practice forgiveness they begin to see themselves less as individuals and more as a part of the larger community.  As individuals we stand alone, but a community has to work together. 

{ MORE: Pediatric Comprehensive Eye Exams are Important. They Even Save Lives! }

Acknowledge what happened:

What parents often describe as overreacting is usually a child’s attempt to let the world know that something isn’t right.  Much like adults, kids crave validation when they’re feelings have been hurt.

While parents tend to downplay minor infractions, particularly during play dates or at the park, sometimes kids just really want their parents to know why they are upset.  Whether it was a stolen toy or a push on the slide, acknowledge what happened and show some support.  Sometimes the simple act of labeling the transgression is enough to calm an upset child.

Release frustration: 

When we run in with a quick fix, we don’t allow our children to express their emotions.  When children store up negative emotions, they experience stress.  It’s perfectly acceptable to feel angry, and to express that anger, when something goes wrong with another friend. 

Take your child away from the scene of the crime and encourage him to vent for a few minutes (stomping feet, clapping hands, and yelling into your shoulder are all good ways to release a little frustration).

Talk it out:

Once your child has released the negative emotions, it’s time to find his friend and talk it out.  Rehearse a script together.  Keep it simple.  When we teach our kids to label their feelings and verbalize those feelings to their friends we teach them to stand up for themselves. 

Encourage empathy: 

With young children, most arguments are not intentional.  Yes, bullying exists.  But when two kids get together to play and a squabble erupts over a toy or game, it usually isn’t personal.  Encourage your child to consider what his friend might have been thinking or feeling.  Was he jealous of a toy?  Did he get really excited and have trouble waiting his turn?  Reframing the incident teaches your child to think about others.

Say the words:

It’s one thing to simply move on, but uttering the words “I forgive you” actually helps kids break free from the emotions that can make forgiveness difficult.  When you verbalize it, you acknowledge that your friendship is bigger than whatever caused the fight and that you truly want to move forward together.  And hugging it out always helps. 

{ MORE: Listen Up! Great Podcasts Your Kids Will Love Listening to With You }

How do you teach forgiveness?

What do you think?

How to Teach Your Children to Forgive

Katie Hurley, LCSW is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and writer in Los Angeles, CA. She is the author of "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" and "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World". She earned her BA in Psychology and Women's Studies from Boston College and her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania. She divides her time between her family, her private practice and her writing. Passionate about he ... More

Tell us what you think!


  1. Profile photo of vanessa vanessa says:

    This is good to learn so kids don’t end up be negative and selfish

  2. I love this! All children need to learn to forgive others. Such a great quality to pick up on from childhood!


Send this to a friend