As adults, we see the way things affect us and don’t want those same burdens on our children. Forgiveness for kids is no exception. As we struggle through learning to forgive ourselves, let’s impress this important state of mind onto our children.
How do You Explain Forgiveness to a Child?
Difficult and somewhat abstract concepts are troublesome to explain, aren’t they? So, how do you explain forgiveness to your kids?
According to Merriam-Webster, forgive means:
- To cease to feel resentment against (forgive an enemy)
- To give up resentment of or claim to requital (forgive an insult)
- Grant relief from payment of (forgive a debt)
Forgiveness is an important concept in scripture. God forgives us of our sins by granting relief of payment. Being born of a sinful nature and unable to stand naked before a holy God, we are condemned to death. However, out of His great love for us, He made a way to for us to be whole and clean and righteous through Jesus Christ.
We know that He ceases to feel resentment against us as he removes our sin as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12)
True forgiveness is multifaceted. It is not simply saying you are sorry. It continues with your thoughts and actions toward a person.
I once exchanged unkind words with a friend. She hurt me deeply and I know I hurt her as well. We didn’t talk to each other for months after that and while I was still angry, I did miss her company and reached out to reconcile.
We both apologized and forgave each other. I no longer felt resentment toward her, however, I noticed that I still felt that she should make it up to me somehow. I felt that she owed me something because of how badly she hurt me. Like she should help me out more or be kinder toward me after the things she had said.
I had not completely forgiven her. In my mind, I was still holding a grudge.
Ok, so now, I’m getting to a point here.
We can teach our kids to say they are sorry or to “kiss and make up” but true forgiveness comes from the heart and affects our thoughts even if we can control the actions.
To answer our question, “how to explain forgiveness to a child” we would have to conclude that forgiveness is no longer having bad feelings toward someone for what they did to us. Even if we have every right to be angry at them.
How then do we teach our kids to forgive? By giving them example after example of what forgiveness looks like and why it is important. Heavy concepts like forgiveness for kids are best shown in stories (there is a reason Jesus told so many parables!)
Forgiveness Stories for Kids
Forgiveness for kids can best be explained in short stories. I have rounded up a few of our favorites that have triggered good conversations and opened the door to honest discussions. They are also stories that will hopefully stick with your child so when they are faced with the unpleasant experience of being wronged by someone, they will understand what is happening.
Short Stories about Forgiveness
The Berenstain Bears and the Forgiving Tree is the book we have and it does a great job of teaching forgiveness. Click on the image to take a look at Christian Book Distributors.
They also have a video on Youtube called The Berenstain Bears Hug and Make Up. This is also a book 🙂
Another great video that can be found on Youtube to teach forgiveness is Veggie Tales: God Wants Me to Forgive Them.
This story is about Peter and how Jesus forgives him. Teaching forgiveness to our kids should always bring us back to Christ.
We haven’t read this one yet but it looks amazing! It’s about a priest who is on his way to preach before the king, but he falls off his horse and ruins his clothes. The king sends him away telling him to return in one week when he is cleaned up. The clothes are ruined and there is no cleaning them up. That is when the royal prince steps in.
Forgiveness Stories in the Bible
The Bible is full of verses and stories about forgiveness and should be included in any study on forgiveness for kids.
Jesus told stories, called parables because we are drawn to stories. Which parables teach about forgiveness? More than one.
For a deeper study, check out these posts!
The parable of the unforgiving servant
Peter asks Jesus, “how many times am I supposed to forgive my brother? Seven times?” and Jesus tells him, “not seven times, but seventy times seven times.” He then launches into the story of the unforgiving servants, teaching us why forgiveness is so important.
I am going to paraphrase the parable here, but it is found in Matthew 18:21-25 if you want to read it yourself.
The Kingdom of Heaven is like a king to whom several servants owed him money. He begins to contact them one by one and demands his money.
One servant owed him quite a sum, 10 thousand talents, to be exact and he had no way of paying the king that large of a sum.
The king commands that the servant be sold along with his wife and children (poor wife and children getting roped into this man’s financial crises) and belongings to pay for the debt.
The servant falls on his knees before the king, begging him not to do this terrible thing to him and his family. He begs him to have patience, he will pay him what he owes.
The king is moved with compassion and not only allows the man to continue life as normal, but forgives him of his entire debt.
The servant goes away relieved but his experience does not seem to stick in his head. Soon after, he confronts a man who owes him a small amount of money and demands that he pay him what he owes.
The man begs for a little longer promising he will pay him. The servant (who had just been forgiven of a very large debt) does not show the same mercy that he had been shown and throws the man into prison until he can pay what he owes.
Several servants of the king observe this poor behavior and tell the king about it. The king is upset to say the least and calls the unforgiving servant to him. He questions him about it pointing out that he had been forgiven a debt and shown great mercy. Why would he not do the same?
The king commands that the man be thrown into jail until he could pay the debt.
Jesus ends this parable with a grave statement.
“So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.”
We need to impress upon our kids that we are blessed to be forgiven ourselves. God has forgiven our debt. Jesus commands us to show that same mercy to others.
The parable of the prodigal son
A man had two sons. The younger requests that he be given his inheritance early. His father agrees and the son takes his money and heads off to a distant land. He was excited to have all of this money and he spent it foolishly.
He made poor choices and was careless with his money, spending it on sinful living. Before long his money ran out. At the same time that he ran out of money, the country he had moved to fell on hard times.
Money was scarce- so were good jobs. The careless son ended up working for a pig farmer. Now, God had long ago told the Children of Israel that pigs were not fit to eat and they had kept them out of their diet for thousands of years. It was embarrassing for the son to be taking care of pigs.
It was also humiliating for him because he knew he had made some bad choices and it was his fault that he had ended up in this awful situation.
He became so hungry that even the pig slop began to look tasty to him. He decides to go back to his father, beg forgiveness, and ask to work as his servant. Jesus doesn’t tell us, but I’ve always assumed that he also repented and asked God to forgive him.
The son returns to his father and this is the best part of the story! The son doesn’t know what to expect. Is his dad going to be angry? Will he allow him to work for him? Does he hate him because he messed up?
The father is so excited that his son has returned that he runs out to meet him, forgiving him immediately, hugging him, and giving him gifts. He didn’t yell at his son or point out all of the poor choices. He didn’t point out how his son had hurt him or caused him to worry. He loved him and allowed that love to forgive all of the wrong done against him.
The story of the prodigal son gets me every time because of how quickly the father forgives. No questions asked, no blame laid. Aren’t you thankful we have a God who loves us so much that He made a way for redemption? It’s amazing when you think about it. Something I do not want to take for granted.
What has been your experience with forgiveness for kids? Are you looking for ideas or have you successfully navigated these waters already? I’d love for you to share your thoughts in the comments below.
Be sure to check out these other posts on character building!