“B- - , you don’t hit people.”
“He hit me first.”
“You don’t hit back. That doesn’t make it right for you to hit.”
“Yes it does.”
While this is a real conversation I heard yesterday between a fellow Sunday School teacher and a fourth grade boy, I’ve heard this same conversation so many times. Same song, second verse. Major case of deja’ blue. Blue, because I and all the other Sunday School teachers feel so sad and frustrated that our kids haven’t caught the idea behind forgiveness. It’s easy to go home, wondering why I bother spending hours teaching when the message doesn’t seem to connect.
As I noted in my last post, forgiveness is a tough, abstract concept that is even difficult for adults. Yet I think there are ways we can teach forgiveness that will be more effective than just saying, “You ought to forgive.” Before a child can understand forgiveness, there’s some groundwork teachers would be wise to lay. Here are some ides for you.
1. We can help children learn to forgive by teaching them to be others’ focused. It takes awhile for children to lose their self absorption. Piaget, the child development guru, talked about parallel play and cooperative play, that children won’t start to be aware of other children and enter into cooperative play until about age four or five. As children start elementary school, they are ready to get involved in service projects and to enjoy deeper friendships.
We can guide their development by involving them as helpers, rewarding them when they do show kindness to others, and lead them in helping the hurting. This is teaching them to do good and to be kind, but we’re also setting the stage for building the compassion they need in order to forgive, for forgiveness requires that they are able to look beyond themselves and their own hurt.
2. We can help children learn to forgive by teaching them what sin is and the consequences of sin. We often teach children as young as three years ol what it means to obey God. The rest of the lesson is that all of us have failed to obey God at some point. In our culture that is bloated on entitlements, it’s hard for people to accept personal responsibility for their own actions, much less to assume responsibility for others’ actions through forgiveness. While teaching children about their willingness to admit personal sin is a prerequisite for salvation, it again sets the stage for them to learn to forgive. And that leads me to my third point.
3. We can help children learn to forgive by teaching them what it’s like to have done something wrong and to be forgiven themselves. It is easier for me to forgive when I realize that I too have done wrong and caused harm to others. We can help our kids grasp forgiveness by modeling forgiveness when they do wrong or disobey us. I’ll talk more about that in my next post.
4. Finally, we can help children learn to forgive by giving them a sense of God’s ability to work beyond evil; that God is still in control of our lives and one small slight from another human being can’t get in the way of God’s overall plan for us. Nothing shall separate us from the love of God. God is far more powerful than the evil of men. Therefore, we can endure the price we must pay to forgive because we are confident God can overcome those consequences.