Helping Children Understand Forgiveness

hands holding forgiveby Nancy Tichy, Author for KidZ at Heart International

Children learn to forgive from the teaching and examples of their parents and other mentors.  Spiritual training for this includes elements on how one acknowledges guilt and accepts God’s (and others’) forgiveness, a special challenge today when so many of all ages respond to wrong-doing with denial, or blame shifting.

Parents do well to substitute phrases like “say, I’m sorry” and “apologize!” with “Please forgive me,” remembering that asking for and granting forgiveness is a two way street.  How often do we ask our children to forgive us when we wrong them? And, of course, powerful teaching moments occur when a child witnesses this process between their parents.

As children grow, they can understand their own hearts, leading them to better understand the heart of God.  We watch for signs of false guiltiness in children and extend grace-filled teaching to help them know what is best to do when they are, truly, guilty of something.  Keeping short accounts is important here as unbridled anger is often the culprit that causes words and actions for which we must be forgiven – or for which we often need to forgive others.

Parents and teachers need skill and wise practices so that they learn how to deal with children’s actions by understanding their heart condition at the time of misbehavior.  The works of Dr. Scott Turansky and his colleague, Joanne Miller, emphasize parenting as ‘heart work’ and help parents and caregivers to minister to deep inner needs along with outward behavior.


  • Forgiveness is not optional.  It is God’s way of dealing with sin’s power to destroy relationships.
  • God took the lead in providing forgiveness for sin.  We follow His example when we forgive.
  • We are responsible for our own actions, but not those of others who need our forgiveness.
  • Forgiveness does not equal approval.
  • We do not have to wait for an invitation to forgive someone.
  • We rarely forget what we forgive.  We may be called on to forgive over and over.
  • Others see God’s character in us when we forgive.
  • Children learn to admit they’ve sinned, ask for forgiveness, receive its benefit and extend it to themselves and others best in loving environments where caregivers teach/ model forgiveness.

The Bible is rich in stories and teaching passages that lead to thoughtful discussions at family times.  Find your favorites; let school age children do some research of their own.

When you take forgiveness as a topic for future family times, here are some questions that will help you unwrap God’s message from His word.  You’ll think of others.

  • What example or command is in this passage/story that I should follow?
  • What principle of life with Jesus do I need to pay attention to?
  • What helps me better understand the heart of our Heavenly Father?
  • What character in this story am I most like right now?  …have I been in the past? …do I admire?

Here are a few passages (among many) that you might choose:

  •      Jesus gives a lesson and a story on forgiveness: Matthew 18:21-35
  •      Jesus forgives a sinful woman: Luke 7:1-50
  •      The ‘Prodigal Sons’: Luke 15:11-32

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