Developing Forgiveness in Youth

Forgiveness is closely linked to the character strength of humility and the positive emotions of empathy and compassion. The cognitive and emotional processes involved in forgiving can bring many personal benefits as well as playing an important role in maintaining healthy relationships.

Young children are still developing their cognitive skills and their ability to forgive may be limited to copying forgiving behaviour until they enter adolescence (Worthington et al., 2014). Some things are very hard to forgive because we feel hurt, betrayed and angry and this is difficult to move beyond.  Instead, we might consider revenge, avoid the person who wronged us, act out or internalise our anger, disappointment and hostility.

Building awareness in young people of why and how people forgive will help them begin to develop the essential social and emotional skills needed to navigate feelings such as anger and hurt which will inevitably occur within the ups and downs of friendships.  It’s important that children know that forgiving someone doesn’t mean we excuse the things they did to upset us or even (in some circumstances) that we will be friendly with them again. Instead, forgiveness helps us to let go of any negative feelings, thoughts and behaviour we might have towards that person. This can improve our happiness and well-being as we feel less anger, resentment and stress.

The activity below is adapted from The Happy Classrooms Programme (Arguís Rey et al., 2014; p252). This programme is freely available for use by parents and educators.

My Two Reasons

Suitable for: all ages

Objective: Developing the ability to forgive

To begin the activity, give children time to think about and discuss examples of unpleasant situations in which someone has acted wrongly, offended others or damaged something. Ask for suggestions to record on the board. Children can choose one of these suggestions to focus on in pairs or small groups.

Each child should think of and express two reasons why they would be able to forgive this behaviour. E.g.: ‘I forgive you because you are my friend and I know it is not going to happen again’; ‘I forgive you because I know that you would not want to harm me and now that you know you have done so, you feel sorry’, etc.

Afterwards, discuss all the reasons the children thought of and encourage children to share how the exercise has made them feel and if they found it useful.

The activity can be concluded by asking children to think of a situation in which they have not been able to forgive – they can compare the feelings and emotions experienced in that situation with those created by this exercise.

Notes: It is recommended that this activity is revisited and repeated with different ‘real life/everyday’ situations that children may experience.

Further Reading

Worthington, E., Wade, N & Hoyt, W. (2014). Positive Psychological Interventions for Promoting Forgiveness. In A.C. Parks & S. Schueller (eds.). The Wiley Blackwell handbook of positive psychological interventions. (pp 20-41). John Wiley & Sons.

Published by Improve My Well-being

Laura is an experienced mentor and teacher, with a MSc Applied Positive Psychology (Distinction). She enjoys living and working in multicultural environments and is passionate about promoting social well-being. Blogging is her outlet to share and explore well-being initiatives and practices with as many people as possible.

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