The horizontal relationship

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When a child hits another child (with fists or words), it’s easy to tell them, “That’s wrong because it hurts someone else. You wouldn’t want them to do that to you.” There are also easy-to-point-to practical consequences of such behavior: “If you hurt other kids, they won’t want to play with you anymore.”

That’s how we address making relationships with one another right when there’s been wrongdoing. Those are the horizontal relationships.

But what about the vertical relationship?

The relationship between a child and the God they believe in? There is often another level of damage to repair that we don’t think to address. Wrongs can create a guilty conscience and distance between a child and their God. How can we help them right that relationship?

The covert dimension of wrongdoing

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Sometimes the wrong doesn’t seem to directly affect another person, but the child’s conscience still bothers them. Even if no one else knows about the wrongdoing and no one else appears to be hurt by it, the knowledge of that wrongdoing can be festering inside the child. That’s what I’m calling the vertical relationship– the spiritual dimension of wrongdoing.

That’s an issue between a person and their God: guilt. Healthy guilt occurs when we do something wrong. When we ignore guilt, we deaden and numb it, which results in the deterioration of our conscience, our God-given sense of right and wrong.

Children ask, “What do I do after I mess up?”

Different traditions have different approaches for dealing with guilt. Consider whether this response will fit your child:

  • Ask for forgiveness and be willing to make up with the person you hurt, or return the items you stole, or admit you lied and tell the truth.
  • Accept the consequence that comes from your teacher or parent.
  • Then go out and do something good.

What other ways do you know of for helping children deal with guilt in a healthy way?

When we ignore guilt, we deaden and numb it, resulting in the deterioration of our conscience. Click to Tweet