If you live with and have contact with others, you will find the need to forgive and reconcile, perhaps on a daily basis. Catholics have a whole ritual around reconciliation, and many Protestants stress forgiveness and reconciliation as well, A workshop about reconciliation can approach it from a faith perspective, or it can have a more secular response to how we live with others on a day-to-day basis.
Stories are an excellent way to help children understand concepts of forgiveness and reconciliation. If you’re a Christian family, you could read Bible stories, such as Joseph and his brothers reconciling in Genesis 45:1-15 or John 21:15-19. For a more secular perspective, share Leo Tolstoy’s “Little Girls Wiser than Men,” Nancy Battista Morgan’s “Rosa Learns About Forgiveness” or Julie Walters’ “Forgiving One Another: Stories About Forgiveness and Reconciliation for Young Children.” (Ref 3) Talk with your child about why forgiveness was given and how the one who was forgiven knew that reconciliation had occurred.
Children can listen and understand a story about reconciliation, but might not understand how to put it into practice. Create scenarios using puppets or other children where one wrongs another and have your child problem-solve how to put things to right through forgiveness and reconciliation. You might use a real situation that occurred between siblings or classmates. Allow your child to be both the wrong and forgiving child and the offending child. Talk about body language clues that forgiveness has been granted, such as a hug or a smile.
Harming others can happen on a large or small scale. Introduce your child to situations where countries must reconcile wrongs, such as the civil rights movement, the trail of tears with Native Americans, the Nazi persecution of the Jews and other non-Aryan races and racial fighting in Arab and African nations. You can read stories about these events in Anne Frank’s “The Hiding Place,” Joseph Bruchac’s “Trail of Tears” or Anne Kamma’s “If You Lived When there Was Slavery in America.” Ask your child how a nation can reconcile when it abuses others or why some races have trouble getting along because they still carry hurts from past wrongs. Consider ways individuals can help right the wrongs on their country.
Sometimes a physical demonstration can help illustrate why forgiveness is necessary. Have your child put on an empty backpack and leave it open so you can add things to it. Ask your child what wrongs she can remember that still hurt. For each wrong, add a block or book to the backpack. Pretty soon, it will begin to get heavy and you can tell your child that what she is feeling physically is how it feels emotionally and mentally when she hangs on to old hurts. Take a few things out and ask her that feels. Explain that each time she forgives, it’s like removing an item from the backpack. Help your child find ways to express reconcile with someone who hurt her, such as saying, “I forgive you” or hugging. Suggest that for each wrong she listed, find a way to reconcile so her backpack will be lighter.