Kids that come into my office typically are suffering from a sense of depression or sadness because someone has betrayed them in their life. Oftentimes it involves a parent or family member who has neglected, hurt or abandoned the child. Parents many times feel helpless to assist the child to develop strong coping skills to deal with these devastating feelings.
In these type of situations, the parent can be extremely helpful in assisting the child in developing resilience. I encourage the parent to help their child to work through his/her feelings. We all know that most children are extremely resilient and yet they can be prone to guilt when they have been neglected or abandoned by a family member. The first course of action is to help the child identify how they are feeling. Most often times the child will be feeling anger, sadness, loss, fear or loneliness. Normalizing these feelings helps to validate the child's experience and helps them to decide how they should proceed with life. After they have processed their feelings and most importantly their fears, I ask parents to encourage children to decide if they are willing to forgive the person who has wronged or harm them.
I must admit that this can be difficult for any adult who is supporting their child because the parent may also feel residual anger. I have met many a parent who confidentially shares that they are angry with the uncle who sexually abused the child, or the parent who abandoned the family. They describe that resentment as being locked deep inside the parent’s heart and admit that they are not sure whether they are ready to forgive the offender of pain. So the parent must work through his/her feelings to be the teacher for his/her child. This may require that the parent get some therapy to process the anger they feel.
Forgiveness is truly one of the greatest gifts a parent can teach a child. And the best way to teach forgiveness is to live forgiveness. Children need to see the parent as able to forgive others for their indiscretions.
I recently did some research on the most helpful ways to assist children in the process of forgiveness and I found kids learn forgiveness when they watched their parents move beyond their anger. We all know that anger and resentment works against you if it is not processed and resolved. Now I'm a believer that anger has a lot of positive qualities however it should never go unprocessed. Forgiveness occurs when anger has been appropriately dealt with and resolved.
So as a parent, are there things in your life that have occurred in which you have been unable to apply the process of forgiveness? Has your child witnessed your inability to let go of anger? Are there people in your life in which you have seething resentment towards because they were unavailable to you or because they hurt you in your past? Perhaps the perpetrator hurt you as well as your child when they betrayed your family. Your child is likely very perceptive and recognizes that you've been hurt too.
So as you help your child work through the issues, make sure you have done your work too.
It’s the best gift you can give to let go of the anger and to talk about forgiving the person, allowing yourself and your child to move on in your lives. When you do this you teach your children the valuable lesson of forgiveness!