Can a child be taught forgiveness?

I THINK SO. Although it is generally believed that time heals all wounds and that children in particular always forget hurts done them with time.

However, we believe that although a memory may fade in the very young with time but a seven-year-old may not forget a painful experience without some guidance or help so that a traumatic experience does not form the future.

The essence of forgiveness is the release from a feeling of shame, fear and guilt. Forgiveness is a subtle process which may require that the parent literarily takes a child by the hand; but it needs not start with the experience of trauma in the hands of another person, especially an adult. It should be incorporated in the way children relate to each other. Children disagree all the time and, left to themselves, they make up and become friends again, that is one step of learning how to forgive because a mind free of pain or worry is a happy soul.

Another example is that time when a child feels unjustly treated by a bigger person whom he cannot handle physically, so he cries to you. As he wails bitterly, you point at the ‘foe’ of the moment and warn him to desist from the act of hostility to your baby. Or you ‘beat’ uncle to the satisfaction of the child; that settles all rancour and bitterness is forgotten and life continues.

But we know that these are minor incidents compared to life-changing hurts that one human being can cause another person even when the person is very young. It happens all the time and in the expression of hurt we feel, we want the worst to happen to the evildoer.

However, in our feeling of pain, we do not know that we are held back. We are so blinded by this incident and remain at one point and do not see the point or the way to live a better and richer life again; the pain has stolen our lives to the point that our lives revolve around it.

But can a child be taught to forget a painful past?
A male friend of mine once recalled: “Both of my parents were teachers, so it was common for parents from far and wide to bring their children to be trained in our house. At any point in time, there were never less than six children in our home. As a result quarrels and even physical fight were common. But when it got out of hand, my parents would invite us to state our case, the point was always to reconcile the parties. The guilty one was scolded or punished and may sulk for some time after. But we always knew that the anger was not for a long time and lasted for one hour, his opponent would mumble an apology. I am sorry was what he wanted to hear so he would say the same thing, too. We feared being called ‘malicious’. After the apologies, play would resume.

“So it was until some parents sent their son from the North to repeat primary six for the second time in our house. The moment Gordy, that was his name, came to our house; we knew that he was trouble. On the late evening they brought him, his parents whispered words like ‘anger’, ‘very stubborn’ as they settled him. But Gordy had charm, too, and that was reserved to adults who you would think did not notice that their son sneered practically at the world. He had this way of looking at people sideways with one corner of the mouth turned downed. Any glance from an adult, the down- turned mouth broadened into huge smile.

“With us children, he did not pretend that he did not like us. We kept out of his way although it was not always possible; that was how I found myself in a scuffle with him one early morning. He wanted to beat me but I held on to his hand, but he looked at me with that stare and walked away. Unluckily for me, I was sent to bring some vegetables from the garden with Gordy. At the quiet garden, Gordy turned to me with that snarl; “You abused me in the morning, you know I should have killed you here!”

“He was not joking; I was scared although I tried not to show it. But worse, I could not report it at home because of the shock. He passed the class and left that year. Although he did not hurt me but I was aware of the danger; it was a big threat but when I look back, I think that although visitors to our house were always amused at what they called the kangaroo court in our house but I cannot stop thinking that the reconciliation behind the process was what saved my life that day. I think that the training got to a young man who saw violence as the solution to every misunderstanding. He has learnt that forgiveness makes you free and he did not fall on me because he has learnt to forgive, too.

“I think that the training makes me to speak out when I feel hurt; I do not see the point to relive painful experiences when there are many positive things to see around me,” he concluded.

While I agree that a child can be taught to forgive, I also know that there are some beliefs, which say that forgiveness should not be considered in serious matters. I remember a discussion I had with some friends recently. Their vehement argument was that the cause of the damage to life and property we see these days is the belief of some people that any sin is forgivable -a misconception of the word because serious offenses may have to go through punishment, only then may the person be forgiven; that was my position.

However, we are speaking of personal hurt which for some time now I have observed that children do go through when I read reports of child molestations, for example. In some cases, the children said they thought that they were the bad ones. A child feels that he is the guilty one because he is made a prey. It does not occur to the child’s mind that his attacker is the evil one; he feels degraded or guilty that he is part of the evil occurrence.

But would asking a child to forgive not be too much responsibility or a waste of time? The alternative would be a bigger burden of shame, guilt and pain. I read a letter written by a 10-year-old girl. She narrated how her uncle molested her sexually when she was much younger; the point is that she did not forget at all, she began to associate every negative thing that has happened to her as a result of it.

The result of trauma in children are aggression and violence; we cannot deny these issues now or that we don’t see more reports of all forms of child abuse nowadays.

But forgiving is not as easy as anyone who has felt wronged knows. This, according to research, is because painful experiences affect the frontal brain, making it impossible for victims of severe trauma to forgive. You could then imagine the pain of a child who is aware that she is being wronged but whose attacker double the pain by warning her to keep quiet or lose her loving parents to death. The child bottles her pain and suffers alone until the deed is made open. But it does mean that the end has wiped the experience from the mind. This we can understand from recollections of adults who look back in time and find that they had been prisoners of a shameful past they had been very powerless to control as children.

Concerning the cases of child rape we hear often these days, Lagos State Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO) Deputy Superintendent of Police, Dolapo Badmus, observes that child rape is not on the increase; what is happening is that more and more people have known it is a heinous crime and report more cases. It is no longer seen as a crime to be confined within the family, DSP Badmus explained.

A child is on the way to healing if the burden is shared. When you tell a child to forgive, you tell her that she can live her life to the fullest. When you tell her to forgive, do not make her believe that her attacker has turned to a saint or ceases to be dangerous if he is a member of the family. In a bid to make the child to forget, truth must be told; the abuse, pain and degradation addressed equally.

That is what is happening these days; people report these terrible things happening where we had thought that incest was an isolated occurrence. These days, when mothers report fathers for violating their biological children, they seek a bright future where such children can hold their heads up; they can look back and be happy that in spite of the experience, they have survived and made well their lives.

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