The Art of Forgiveness in Children

Forgiveness among adults in one of the most researched topics. There are various research papers which focuses on the effects of forgiving, its role in coping, psychological well-being and interpersonal relationships. A little is known on how forgiveness is developed in children and how it impacts their psychological well-being.

A research study was conducted to understand developmental mechanisms that underlie intergroup forgiveness in children and adolescents.

The researchers enlisted 185 children from various ethnic groups, between the age group of 5 to 14 years. They interviewed and assessed the children “Theory of mind” skills.

In the second part of the study, researchers led each child through a series of scenario involving other children. They wanted to study whether the children forgive an in-group member if they apologized. Each child was told they belong to a group, such as the green team. During interview, researchers told the participant that some children are in the same team as you (in-group), while other children were on the yellow team (out-group). In each scenario, interviewers asked the child whether they were willing to forgive their group that left them out of a game or activity.

There were three main findings. First, children forgive people if they apologize. Second, children forgive those easily with whom they have close relationship or belong to the same group. Third, children with highly develop theory of mind skills are more likely to understand and forgive others easily.
Theory of Mind refers to the ability to understand other people by ascribing mental states to them. The children have the capacity to understand other people thoughts and feelings are different from them.

The researchers found that children are capable of distinguishing between a sincere and insincere apology. Mulvey says. “The apology needs to make clear that someone understands why what they did was wrong. This, in turn, makes other kids more likely to give them a second chance.”

Mulvey reported that “Children are capable of restoring relationships with others, and are usually interested in doing so.”

The research study identified two main areas of forgiveness. First, Parents and teachers needs to actively discuss and teach children on how to forgive others and understand the perspective of others.

Second, Forgiveness is important in children and adults for restoring relationships and limiting future conflicts. Helping children to develop these skills will aid them to navigate and understand the world better.

Mulvey, K. L., Gönültaş, S., Herry, E., & Strelan, P. (2022). The role of theory of mind, group membership, and apology in intergroup forgiveness among children and adolescents. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 151(3), 613–627.