As much as you teach your kids about forgiveness and talk about the complexity of human emotions and the importance of a release, there will come a time when your child will get so angry about something that he or she will hold a grudge. Your child — and maybe you at times — will have that feeling of ill will and resentment so internally entrenched that it may even feel physical, like a ball of festering anger waiting to erupt. How on earth do you help your child learn to release that anger, to let go of that grudge?
Trying to help a child overcome a grudge is a multi-faceted process. You need to figure out why a hurt became a grudge, prevent retaliatory behavior and talk, talk, talk about emotions, forgiveness and letting go. It might be really hard — and it might take a long time.
Trying to determine why a grudge developed can be a challenge. What others may have thought of as a trivial insult triggers something deeper in the grudge holder. Rather than dismissing the grudge as “silly” or whatever, you can try first acknowledging that a deep hurt has happened, and then try to talk about why it hurt so much. What elements of that hurt can be addressed in a more constructive manner? Where can the resolution — and hopefully forgiveness in time — start?
No tit for tat
Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” Holding such deep resentment can trigger a “well if he did that to me then I’m going to do the same to him” response. Such a response moves no one toward resolution — and can often escalate the situation. Unfortunately, our kids see this kind of retaliatory action far too often in the adult world.
As a parent, you can draw the line and say to your child, “No, this is not okay. Retaliation and intentionally hurting someone is not okay,” then back it up with as much structure and action as is appropriate to the situation until some air of calmness and rationality is restored. If it’s shutting down your child’s computer account so she can’t fire off nasty Facebook comments, do it. If it’s keeping your son physically away from a neighbor, do it.
Back to forgiveness basics
Go back to basic discussions of forgiveness and why it’s important. Talk again about how we all make mistakes and how so often hurting one another is unintentional. Talk about the kind of consideration your child would want from friends if he accidentally hurt them, and why he needs to offer that same consideration to others. This not a guarantee that the person on the other side of the grudge will feel or act in the same way, but it is a start.
If your child is having such a hard time letting go of a grudge, perhaps it’s time to seek professional help. Your child’s lingering anger might have nothing at all to do with the initial insult and he or she may not even realize that! A professional therapist may be able to help your child figure out why he or she is really angry — and help all of you discover some better anger management strategies.
Grudges are no fun for anyone. If simple forgiveness doesn’t work and a hurt turns to a grudge, address it before it gets destructive.