Teaching kids forgiveness is about seeing the other’s point of view, study finds
RALEIGH, NC – Want to teach a child to truly forgive someone else? Help them understand the other person’s point of view, new research finds. Scientists at North Carolina State University report that helping a child mentally put themselves in someone else’s shoes for a while can help them better understand how to forgive others. Additionally, teaching a child to apologize sincerely can also help young people receive forgiveness from others more easily.
âForgiveness is important in children and adults for restoring relationships and limiting future conflict,â study lead author Kelly Lynn Mulvey, associate professor of psychology at NC State, said in an academic publication. âBut we didn’t know much about what makes children more likely to forgive others, especially in infancy through adolescence. This is what we wanted to explore with our study.
A total of 185 children (aged 5 to 14) participated in the study. Each child underwent an in-depth interview designed to assess their “theory of mind” skills, which refers to their ability to understand that someone else’s beliefs, intentions and desires are different from their own. The researchers led each child through a series of scenarios involving other children who were part of the âgroup to groupâ or the âgroup outâ.
To begin with, the team assigned each child to a specific group, for example, the âgreen teamâ. For the remainder of the interview, the other children were described as being part of the same group (green team) or a different group (yellow). At the end of each scenario, the researchers asked the youth if they would be willing to forgive a group that had excluded them from a game or activity.
“Children have sophisticated forgiving abilities”
This process led to three main conclusions. The first is that children are more likely to forgive someone else if they have already apologized. In addition, children were more likely to forgive their peers âas a groupâ. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the higher a child scores in terms of “theory of mind” skills, the more likely they are to forgive others.
âWe have discovered that children have sophisticated abilities to forgive others,â says Mulvey. âChildren are able to reestablish relationships with others and are generally interested in doing so. “
Therefore, the study authors suggest that parents and teachers focus on two main factors while instilling forgiveness in children. To start, help children understand how important it is to apologize in a meaningful way.
“Children are able to discern hypocritical excuses, and hypocritical excuses were not conducive to encouraging forgiveness,” comments Mulvey. âThe apology should make it clear that someone understands why what they did was wrong. This, in turn, makes other children more likely to give them a second chance. “
Then, help the children to adopt the point of view of others, even if they are âoutside the groupâ.
“One of the biggest implications of our study is that teachers and parents should actively help children develop their theory of mind skills,” Mulvey concludes. âA good place to start is to get children to explain the rationale for their actions and how it might make others feel. Helping young people develop these skills in childhood will help them navigate a diverse and complex world.
The study is published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology.