Academic journal article Merrill-Palmer Quarterly

Interpersonal Forgiveness and Psychological Well-Being in Late Childhood

Academic journal article Merrill-Palmer Quarterly

Interpersonal Forgiveness and Psychological Well-Being in Late Childhood

Article excerpt

Friendships are important in the lives of children and generally provide them with positive outcomes, such as a sense of security and social support, and opportunities to develop emotionally and socially. At the same time, even in the closest friendship, it seems inevitable that children sometimes feel offended or hurt (e.g., Burk & Laursen, 2005; Laursen & Hafen, 2010). They may discover that a peer had lied to them or divulged one of their secrets to others, or, more extremely, children may bully or exclude each other. How do children maintain friendships in the face of such offenses? Can children overcome the often initial and natural impulse for revenge against those who hurt them? Does a forgiving response benefit the child's psychological well-being even though the offense was painful? And, if so, does the type of relationship in which forgiveness occurs play a role in affecting the child's psychological well-being?

Surprisingly little research has examined the role of forgiveness in children's peer relationships (but see Denham, Neal, Wilson, Pickering, & Boyatzis, 2005; Flanagan, Van den Hoek, Ranter, & Reich, 2012; Peets, Hodges, & Salmivalli, 2013). Yet, the scientific literature on interpersonal forgiveness suggests that forgiveness may be one of the keys to understanding how people maintain close bonds (e.g., Karremans & Van Lange, 2008; McCullough et al., 1998; Paleari, Regalia, & Fincham, 2005). The main purpose of the current study was to examine whether children's tendency to forgive is associated with psychological well-being. Importantly, we argue that the association between children's forgiving tendencies and psychological well-being depends on the nature of the relationship in which forgiveness occurs.

The Benefits of Friendships in Childhood

Peer and friendship relations in late childhood play an essential role in children's social, emotional, and cognitive development (Berndt & Ladd, 1989; Sullivan, 1953). Research shows that friendships are associated with a greater sense of well-being, better self-esteem, and fewer social problems, both concurrently and later in life (e.g., Bukowski, Motzoi, & Mej'er, 2009; Ladd, 1990; Marion, Laursen, Zettergren, & Bergman, 2013; Rose & Asher, 1999; Vitaro, Boivin, & Bukowski, 2009). In contrast, children and adolescents who lack close friendships are more likely to manifest behavioral and emotional problems during childhood and even adulthood (Berndt, 2002; Glick & Rose, 2011; Hartup, 1996; Ladd &Troop-Gordon, 2003; Newcomb & Bagwell, 1995). For example, they are more likely to feel lonely and isolated (Asher & Paquette, 2003), have low self-esteem (Bagwell, Newcomb, & Bukowski, 1998), be victimized by peers (Hodges, Boivin, Vitaro, & Bukowski, 1999), or engage in deviant behaviors (e.g., Parker & Asher, 1993).

Given the numerous benefits of close friendships, children's capacity to maintain such friendships is crucial. However, this may be not so easy because negative interactions are especially salient in friendship relations (e.g., Burk & Laursen, 2005) and tend to intensify in late childhood when peer relations grow more complex (Parker, Rubin, Erath, Wojslawowicz, & Buskirk, 2006). Hartup, French, Laursen, Johnston, and Ogawa (1993) demonstrated that conflict occurred most frequently, and lasted longer, in relationships in which children were socially interdependent and interact over substantial periods (Simpkins & Parke, 2002; cf. Fincham, 2000). Thus, to reap the benefits of long-lasting friendships, an important challenge for children is to maintain their friendships in the face of interpersonal offenses.

Forgiving Responses and the Maintenance of Friendships

How do children respond to a peer's offensive act? One way in which children may respond is to do harm in return (e.g., McCullough, Fincham, & Tsang, 2003; Rose & Asher, 1999). …

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