How do you model forgiveness to a child? I remember when I first started teaching, I was so uptight about the D word – discipline! Could I keep my class under control? I was so consumed with making sure kids towed the line, I forgot to model forgiveness.
Kids will act out Inside The Classroom for a variety of reasons. Home life might be in the septic tank so they act out at school. They may not have had enough sleep. They may lack social skills and not know how to handle relationships with other kids. They, in their youthful inexperience, just may not know any better. That’s called foolishness. Many childhood mistakes are foolish, not sinful. And then there’s the Big One.- Rebellion.
The first step in modeling forgiveness to a child is to determine the why behind the action. If it’s fatigue or “acting out,” you may need to work and pray to find the core issue; in the meantime, forbear and patiently teach that child that there’s a better way to live and some behaviors are unacceptable, regardless of the reasons. If it’s foolishness, you have the opportunity to teach a better way. After all, that’s what you are there for – to teach! If it’s rebellion, a blatant breaking of the rules, you have an opportunity to model forgiveness.
If the child has actually disobeyed, the next step is to state to the child what the rule is, how he or she has broken it, and what the consequences will be. This needs to be done in a calm but firm voice. If you are angry and your anger is threatening to show, you need a time out! (Sometimes when I was angry at my children, I would tell them, “I’m taking a time out in my bedroom. When I calm down, I’ll deal with you then.” They told me later that put more fear into them than anything because they knew they must have really blown it to make Mom mad!) Tell the child what punishment you have chosen. Ask, “Why am I doing this?” Try to get them to tell you why they are being punished, what they have done wrong.
At this point, you may choose to ask the child if they are sorry for what they did. . I believe in asking the child in this process, “What you did was wrong. You broke the rules. Are you sorry you did that?’ If the error is an altercation between two children, try encouraging them to say they are sorry to each other. Don’t push this however. Don’t force them to say the words or stand them in corners until they are “ready to say you’re sorry.” Kids have a way of patching up misunderstandings and playing with each other sooner than teachers expect!
True repentance is a change of direction. To help your child with this step, ask, “What are you going to do next time (someone hits you or you get angry and need to express your anger)?”
After you have determined the necessary punishment (or consequences as I like to call them), now is your opportunity to model forgiveness. If it’s your own child, pull that kid into your lap for a hug and a reassurance of your unconditional love. If it’s a child in your classroom, try getting down to the child’s level, put a hand on their shoulder, and in language they can understand, tell them you forgive them and you still like them and you are interested in helping them become the best they can be. Then find an activity for them to do, perhaps help you erase the blackboard, pass out napkins for snack or get involved in a new project. Redirect their energy into something positive. When the child is doing something good or positive, look for a chance to give praise or say something kind.
By now you are saying, “I don’t have time for all these multiple steps! While all of this is ideal, take what you can do. Send up arrow prayers as situations arise, asking God to help you know the best tactic to take and specific ways you can show forgiveness to the child after the altercation. Pray for your kids. Pray that the Lord will help you say or do something kind for each child sometime within the class period. Your thoughtfulness, regardless of how they have acted or treated you is the stuff they will remember the rest of their lives.