I did it again. I lost my temper and exploded in a moment of irritation.
A look of shock and hurt flashed through my little one’s eyes, and I instantly regretted my actions. Slowly, I drew a breath. I knelt before my kids, looked them in the eye, and apologized—and then I asked them to forgive me. We hugged, and I felt their forgiveness. It’s humbling to acknowledge our mistakes and seek forgiveness, but it’s especially difficult—and important—with our children.
Why Does Forgiveness Matter?
Forgiveness is essential in every relationship. It starts in the home and is one of the most important skills we can teach our children.
The Bible is clear: Forgiveness is not optional.
“If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14-15 NLT)
We are expected to forgive all those who hurt us. And not just once!
“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.'” (Matthew 18:21-22 NIV)
This concept used to overwhelm me. How could I allow someone to hurt me repeatedly yet maintain a relationship with them? However, marriage and parenting quickly answered that question. The truth is that we hurt those we love regularly, whether through a harsh word, a thoughtless act, or an outburst of anger. We are constantly doing and saying things to others that require forgiveness. The longer we are in a relationship with someone, the more forgiveness we need.
I no longer feel dread because of these verses. Instead, I am humbled and grateful for God’s forgiveness. I also better understand the importance of modeling this concept for my kids. The power to forgive is one of the greatest gifts we can give our kids. It frees them from the pain and consequences of unforgiveness. It also helps to establish trust, which leads to deeper relationships.
One of the things I love most about my husband, James, is his ability to take responsibility for his actions. I still remember the first time he did it. I can’t remember what he did wrong or the exact words he spoke to apologize. But I’ll never forget the feeling of meeting someone who didn’t make excuses to justify his behavior or wait until I told him he was wrong before he owned his mistake.
It takes a lot of humility to acknowledge we’ve done something wrong and make amends. When he did that for the first time, I knew he was a leader I could follow anywhere. I could trust him with my heart and build a strong relationship.
Our kids need the same from us. They need to see us take responsibility for our actions. We can’t just talk about the behaviors we want them to demonstrate; we need to model them actively. Have you ever had someone you look up to tell you to “do as I say, not as I do?” They want you to make better decisions, but don’t live it out? For me growing up, this was often confusing and frustrating. I didn’t understand why a behavior was okay for an adult, but they told me it wasn’t okay for me. If we aren’t willing to humble ourselves before our children and seek their forgiveness when we are in the wrong, we will create a wedge in our relationship that ultimately breeds distrust. And we may unintentionally communicate that forgiveness is optional or reserved only for certain circumstances.
Monkey See-Monkey Do
Kids are incredibly perceptive and look to their parents to shape their worldview. I’ll never forget the day I truly understood the power of our influence in our kids’ lives. My son was just a toddler. I had been diligently working to teach him manners like saying “please” and “thank you.” And he was so cute when he said them! It took consistency on my part, but he eventually became a model of politeness. People frequently commented about my kids’ good manners. One morning, James was blocking my entrance into the bathroom. I was in a hurry. I must’ve been irritated about something (who knows what?!), and instead of politely asking him to step aside, I pushed past, saying, “MOVE!” (I’m a terrible person sometimes!)
I’m sure you can imagine what happened next: My sweet little boy suddenly began pushing everyone in his way, telling us to “MOVE!” What’s worse, even though it only took a few times of teaching him to repeat something after me to learn a new behavior, it took so much longer to get him to unlearn the behavior he watched me demonstrate. And you can imagine my embarrassment each time he did it, knowing I was the reason he was acting that way.
Our behavior is never more humbling than when it is repeated by our children. While they often reflect the best parts of us, they also mirror the worst parts of us – and that is terrifying at times! It got me thinking about the kind of people I want to raise my children to become.
I want my kids to become powerful people. We live in a world full of people with a victim mindset. They blame others constantly. They find fault and become offended over every little thing. This toxic mindset inhibits personal and spiritual growth and fills them with bitterness and unforgiveness.
Powerful people admit when they are wrong and work to make amends. They don’t make excuses or justify their actions. They don’t blame other people or play the victim. In a world where personal responsibility is lacking, we need to intentionally teach our children how to become powerful people. This begins with modeling forgiveness, so our children learn to humble themselves and seek forgiveness when they are in the wrong.
4 Simple Steps to Model Forgiveness
Here are four simple steps we can teach our children as we demonstrate how to forgive others. I’ll refer back to my story at the beginning when I lost my temper and yelled at my kids.
1. Acknowledge what you did wrong
“I should not have yelled at you.”
“I am so sorry for raising my voice in frustration.”
3. Ask them to please forgive you
“Please forgive me for yelling at you.”
4. Change your behavior
“I’m going to work really hard to keep my anger under control. Next time I will take deep breaths or take a timeout to calm myself down before talking with you.”
As we model these steps of forgiveness for our kids, we can help them walk through those steps as well. We can refer back to our own process and guide them to practice seeking forgiveness and forgiving others in the same way.
In addition to modeling seeking forgiveness, we need to demonstrate how to forgive others, even when they don’t ask for forgiveness. It is important to emphasize that sometimes it can be harder to forgive in these situations. There will be times when we need to forgive over and over again, when our feelings keep bubbling to the surface. Then, we teach our kids to pray and ask for God’s help forgiving those who’ve hurt us, and model how to pray for them each time we feel the hurt or anger rise up.
By teaching our kids how to seek and give forgiveness, we help them become influential people who model the love and grace of Jesus each and every day.
Katie J Trent is the author of the book, Dishing Up Devotions: 36 Faith-Building Activities for Homeschooling Families (Whitaker House). She is also a popular blogger, speaker, homeschool mama, and a Pinterest drop-out with a messy house and happy kids—most of the time. Katie lives in Arizona with her husband James and their two children. For more resources to grow your faith, strengthen your family, and simplify your homeschool, visit KatieJTrent.com. Connect with Katie on Instagram @KatieJTrent.
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