Is Unforgiveness Hurting Your Children?
Have you noticed your children shutting down emotionally, isolating, overreacting, or being short tempered? Have you watched them struggle with their friends, siblings, or even in how they’re interacting with you? If so, your kids may be struggling with unforgiveness.
Unforgiveness—remaining unwilling or unable to forgive—is a dangerous place for your children or even for yourself. An unforgiving heart will eventually turn into a bitter heart, and that can bear bitter and poisonous fruit.
As parents, it can be difficult at times to know how involved we need to get in the daily drama that comes with being a kid, or if we need to get involved at all. For some of us, we never had a model of what healthy confrontation or forgiveness looks like in a family. For others, after a long day at work, we’re just hoping these issues will resolve themselves on their own.
Our children need our modeling and guidance to work through the hurt that they will encounter in this life. They need us to lead them through these times so that they don’t get stuck in a place of unforgiveness.
More than ever before, studies show that forgiveness is essential to living a healthy, stress-free life. The idea of forgiveness is no longer just a spiritual one.
The Bible cautions us to watch out for the bitterness that springs up from unforgiveness, whether in ourselves or those around us:
“See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defied” (Hebrews 12:15 ESV)
Learning to forgive—and creating a culture of forgiveness in your family—can sound like a daunting task, especially if you weren’t raised in a home where forgiveness was taught. However, while learning to forgive can be difficult, the concept itself is really quite simple:
- We forgive because we have been forgiven by Christ.
- We are able to forgive others because we know that we ourselves don’t deserve—and could never deserve—the forgiveness that Jesus gives us freely.
- We forgive because we know that unforgiveness leads to a root of bitterness, which is not only harmful to our children, but to ourselves and all those around us as well.
Giving your children the tools they need to walk through forgiveness with their friends, siblings and yourself is essential. If you’ve never learned how to walk through forgiveness, you can learn right alongside your children as you model forgiveness for them.
Here are a few things I’ve learned over the years with my five children about how to help your children work through unforgiveness. But first, I want to share with you a verse that has really helped me as I’ve worked this out in my own family.
“Be gentle with one another, sensitive. Forgive one another as quickly and thoroughly as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32 MSG)
Be gentle, and start asking questions
Remember, you’re not interrogating your children. You’re trying to get inside of their head and their heart to find out what’s going on. I like to start out with a story. “I know what it’s like to be hurt. I had a friend when I was a kid…”
You can also ask questions like,
“I’ve noticed you aren’t talking about [name] anymore. Has something happened between you? Did they do something that hurt you?”
“You and your brother seem to be arguing a lot lately. What do you think that’s about? Why is this important to you?”
“Is there something you need to tell me but you’re afraid I’ll get angry? Whatever it is, I promise not to react…”
Be sensitive to how they may be hurting
This is your opportunity to connect with your child on the level that they are hurting. What may seem to you to only be “kid drama” or “no big deal” might actually be a very big deal to your child. Let them share their world, free from shame or judgement.
It’s important that you listen for how your child is hurting, rather than listening for ‘who was right’ in the story they’re sharing with you. This type of compassionate listening will help your relationship with your child grow leaps and bounds.
Tell them a story about someone you forgave
Stories are a great way to connect with your child without giving a lecture. When talking to your kids about forgiveness, it’s important to be honest with them and share from your personal experiences. Perhaps you have a story about how not forgiving someone actually hurt you? Or a story about a time when you wished you had chosen to forgive a friend?
Lead them in a prayer to forgive
When we are hurting, it’s easy for us to focus only on the offense and the person who hurt us. Remind your kids of why Jesus died on the cross for them: for all of the bad things that we’ve done to others, and for all of the bad things that others have done to us.
When others hurt us, we are able to forgive them because Jesus has first forgiven us.
In summary, watch your child for signs that they may be struggling with unforgiveness. You are the perfect person to help them walk through forgiveness, even if you are still learning how to forgive and model forgiveness yourself.
These four steps have dramatically helped build a culture of forgiveness into my kids and into my home, and it will do the same for you!
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Published on April 25, 2018.