Teaching Kids to Forgive

"For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins."

Among the many commands Jesus gave his followers was to forgive. Yet look around you. How much forgiveness do you see? (Let's just put it this way: There's a category in my Netflix queue called "Revenge.") But this attitude toward forgiveness is nothing new. In the Bible, Peter asked Jesus: "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?" - implying he wasn't all that eager to take forgiveness too far.

And Jesus answered him, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times." (Matt. 18: 21-22) In other words: Keep forgiving, over and over.

So how do we teach our kids to have a spirit of forgiveness - for themselves as well as others? Begin by reading and memorizing Bible verses about forgiveness. Then consider how well you forgive. Are you modeling good or bad behavior? When a clerk at a grocery store makes a mistake, do you grump at him or smile and tell him it's okay? When you make a mistake yourself, do you beat yourself up about it, or move on? When your child disobeys, are you cranky with her the rest of the day, or after disciplining her do you hug her and tell her you forgive her? And do you ever ask your child for forgiveness when you do wrong? If you show your child how to forgive in everyday situations, your child is most likely to be good at forgiving himself and others.

Another way to encourage a forgiving nature is to talk about how others feel. If your daughter smacks her little brother when he takes away her toy, ask her, "Why do you think your brother took your toy? How do you think he felt when you hit him?" If she needs help, ask "How do you feel when you really want a toy and someone else is playing with it? How do you feel when your brother hits you?" By frequently asking our child to consider how others feel, we go a long way toward making forgiveness more easy and natural.

I also think it's important to teach that forgiveness is a decision we make. When we tell someone we forgive them, our hearts may still feel tight and unforgiving. But if we constantly think "I forgive him" each time we have bitter feelings toward someone, eventually God changes our hearts.

Last but not least, pray with your child, teaching her how to ask God for a change of heart. Then remind her of the ultimate forgiver: God. A phrase you'll often hear in our home is "I need lots of grace and forgiveness from God, so how I can not extend it to others?"

"And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins."
Mark 11:25

"Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you."
Col. 3:13


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