The relationships our children have are their greatest teachers of love and pain, says Sherrie Campbell, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist with two decades of clinical work and the author of Loving Yourself: The Mastery of Being Your Own Person (AuthorHouse, 2012). “We must teach that life is not built to be fair. … Forgiveness is many things but we also must teach that forgiveness doesn’t always mean reconciliation.  It is not about condoning harms which have been done.  Forgiveness is about taking power back,” she says.

Campbell offers five ways for empowering forgiveness:

1.  Let go of the need for closure. “When we’ve been hurt, we want people to be sorry for what they did. We get so hooked into this that we put our happiness on hold until we get this ‘apology,’” says Campbell. “Our children need to understand these apologies rarely come, and each day they are waiting to feel good until they get the apology they believe they need is another day wasted on a person who doesn’t deserve their headspace. Closure comes from within and in their ability to let go and move on.” 

2. Accept what is done is done.  When a child has been hurt, “no amount of their anger or sadness can or will change that,” she notes. “We have to teach them that when they can accept there is no way to reverse the damage then they can move on and not give any more time to something they cannot change. This liberates and brings them the power to determine their own worth back to them.” 

3. Establish a habit of grateful thinking. Campbell stresses it’s important to teach the “silver-lining” theory to children. “There is positive thinking and negative thinking, each which can be an extreme path to take after we have been hurt. There is something disingenuous about a strictly positive thinker because life is hard and to be positive all the time is not realistic, and to be consumed in negative thought is simply a lack of effort. Grateful thinking is that middle ground where we teach our children to accept life on life’s terms and to find the good in the painful and in the wonderful,” she says.

4. View forgiving as a process not an event. Hurts take time to heal, and kids need time to process their feelings. Campbell says it’s helpful to think of forgiving as a verb and that kids need to know that what they feel is OK. “Their emotions are healthy and they, like us, need to experience the full range of emotions when they have been betrayed before they can get clear about what they need to do next,” she says. 

5. Realize that we come through every hurt stronger. “If we can show our children that how things are supposed to be and how they turn out is often very different, this will help them develop a realistic and mature view on life and people,” asserts Campbell. “With each hurt our children have the opportunity to turn a grievance into a success. We must show them their emotions are natural and that they grow the most by being more human – feeling emotions, not by being less human – acting like they don’t care.”

Read more about how to teach kids forgiveness here!

Mary Alice Cookson is associate editor of Boston Parents Paper.