The neighbor boys were over to play: a 12-year-old and his 9-year-old nephew, an 11-year-old and his 8-year-old brother, and a 7-year-old. My boys, 7 and 5 years-old, were having a blast. While listening in on their play, I heard one friend make a boy-tragic error. It was something like: “That sword is way too short.” Without a moment’s notice, my son shot back: “That’s STUPID. It’s not a sword. It’s a KNIFE.”
I didn’t care about the sword/knife differentiation. However, I did care about the fact that my son called his neighbor stupid. While I let many of these situations work themselves out in the normal give and take of neighborhood friendships, for some reason I felt like saying something this time.
Me: “Braden, you just called your friend stupid. I’d like you to apologize.”
Braden: “I’m sorry Tavis. You’re not stupid.”
This much I had predicted. It was what happened next that caught my attention.
Tavis: “You’re forgiven.”
I didn’t know Tavis’ parents very well at this point. When I heard him say that, I decided I wanted to get to know them more. Kids don’t just say “you’re forgiven” if they haven’t had a little bit of instruction.
I had a talk with Tavis’ dad on the playground near our house a few weeks later. During our conversation, I brought up this story. He said, “Yeah, our family has a lot of emotion. One rule we have is that it’s always okay to apologize and forgive each other.”
I loved that! I loved it for two reasons. First, it recognized that normal families have all sorts of emotion. Second, because it recognized that emotions can be messy and family members need to forgive each other.
As a side advantage, I think it also means that the boys in that family will hopefully be more inclined to forgive my boys when they do things that need forgiving (which my boys do all the time).
- Emotions in families are normal.
- We all need to have grace (forgive) each other’s emotional mistakes.
- Parents should model apologizing and forgiveness to children by asking for forgiveness when parents make emotional mistakes.
- Parents should teach children to apologize and forgive and allow them to make the mistakes that all children make when learning these skills (think of all the mistakes you have made).