How To Teach Children To Forgive

Normal continues to be redefined … daily in this age of Coronavirus. And the changes bring opportunities to practice forgiveness. Our leaders are fallible, fellow citizens are carriers, healthcare workers and hospitals fall short, others are insensitive even mocking. Will we be blame-casters or will we who know Christ be like Him? This is the season we remember His undeserved accusations, beatings and suffering, ending with this shocking prayer, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” I hope the examples below and the suggestions for teaching children help you become more like Jesus.

It was not a typical moment in the courtroom.

White Dallas police officer Amber Guyger had been found guilty of murder after she shot and killed her neighbor, Botham Jean. Guyger had entered Jean’s apartment by mistake, thinking it was hers, and she thought he was an intruder. 

Jean’s teenage brother, Brandt, was addressing the court before sentencing. In a move that surprised the entire nation, Brandt told Guyger, “I forgive you, and I know that if you go to God and ask Him, He will forgive you. … I want the best for you, because I know that’s exactly what Botham would want you to do, and the best would be: Give your life to Christ.” Brandt even asked for permission to give Guyger a hug. The video went viral.

Genuine supernatural forgiveness is extraordinary and beautiful

Our entire nation was shocked. Much of the world paid close attention to Brandt’s words and actions. Vengeance, anger, hate was expected, not forgiveness and love. Everyone marveled. We all wondered, Could I forgive like that? 

This brave courageous choice to forgive, and others like it such as the Charleston church members and the families of the Amish children, show us how to forgive. They also show us what redemptive, healing and hopeful real-God-inspired forgiveness looks like.

The first step to teaching children to forgive is to be an adult who models it. Parents are not the only models but they are the first ones. Let your children see and hear you apologize and grant forgiveness. 

Teachers, grandparents, coaches, and certainly believers who interact with kids need to humbly show repentance and the giving of forgiveness. Little eyes are always watching the grownups in their lives.

Second, parents need to own the responsibility to explain and train the how-to’s. This was one of our biggest value goals as we raised our six. Repeatedly we explained: You hurt your brother or sister, and you must ask for forgiveness. We asked, “Are you sorry you hurt her? Now say, ‘I am sorry I hit you. I was wrong. I should have … (asked for help, waited till it was my turn, etc). Will you forgive me for hitting you?’”

We taught our children to name their sin. We taught them what sin was and why it was an offense against God who wants us to love one another as He does.

Teaching the steps and staying with the lesson until each child understood why specific confessions were needed was crucial for genuine heartfelt reconciliation. These lessons take time, more time than most parents want to give. We must have spent hundreds of hours collectively with all six over our 28 years of parenting. We were busy and had a million things to do, just like you, but teaching forgiveness was more important than any other item on our to-do list. And it must be for you too.

You are literally shaping the heart of your child. They will never learn this heart skill unless you get down on your knee or set them in your lap and teach them eye to eye. Sin is not something they will outgrow. It starts small when they are little, but it won’t stay small when they become teens.

Letting kids learn to dismiss their actions with “I was just joking,” “She’s too sensitive,” or “It’s no big deal,” will never lead them to see their need for a Savior. They will then become adults who dismiss their hurtful actions and attitudes in marriages, work, and all relationships. Children who don’t learn how to forgive and grant forgiveness will be handicapped all their lives.

The third way to help your children is to build a library of faith-forgiveness role models. Reading about spiritual heroes is an important supplement to your verbal instruction and correction. Growing Together in Forgiveness is one of those essential books for your family. Seven stories of men, women and children who courageously forgave will inspire you and your family to do the same. 


Easter will be here soon and forgiveness is the central theme of Jesus’ life and death. On the cross he said to the soldiers and to everyone that day including all of us: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

In love Jesus forgave from the cross, even without anyone specifically asking. His offer of forgiveness was given at that moment for anyone who believed; and the thief hanging next to him did believe and said, “We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. … Jesus, remember me” (Luke 23:41-42).

True forgiveness is supernatural. When we choose to confess and forgive we are following Christ’s example on the cross. 

Did Amber Guyger deserve forgiveness for killing Botham Jean? No. Clearly she was guilty and deserved to be punished for her rash decision. 

Do you deserve forgiveness from God? No. I don’t either. The Bible is clear we are all sinners, broken since Eden, and in need of a rescue we could never provide on our own.

Teach your sweet precious little ones that they, too, have a wicked heart, even though they often are so cute it’s hard to believe. Start young. It’s easier to begin training little ones to say “I’m sorry will you forgive me,” than it is to correct a stubborn, insecure, or arrogant teenager whose childhood sins were ignored and tolerated.

Love your children well and teach them they need Jesus and His forgiveness so they can then grant forgiveness to others. 

This is how Christians become #easterpeople for whom the cross is everything!

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