If you’ve ever made your kids forgive their siblings, even when you mean it, you understand. Is forcing someone to forgive true forgiveness? What is the best way to teach forgiveness?
“Will you forgive me?”
A very common phrase. It wasn’t until a few weeks ago, however, that I realized I dislike hearing children ask each other for forgiveness. It rubs me the wrong way. And I’m not going to teach my kids to do it.
I will teach my children to forgive.
Furthermore, I’ll create a home atmosphere of grace and forgiveness.
I will also actively train their hearts not to hold grudges.
But I will not teach my kids to ask each other for forgiveness. Why?
Because forgiveness is a gift. And it can’t be forced
Imagine this scenario:
Jamie and John are brother and sister. One day at school John’s friends start mercilessly teasing Jamie, and John doesn’t say a thing in her defense, but laughs along with them.
Jamie is hurt by the teasing, and even more hurt because her brother didn’t stand up for her.
So now a few things have happened. Jamie’s feelings have been hurt and the brother/sister relationship has a breach. By encouraging John to immediately apologize and Jamie to forgive, without working through this situation, you’d be encouraging Jamie to stuff her feelings and move on.
And you’d be teaching John that a few words lets you off the hook.
This may mean John never gets a chance to feel remorseful and make amends. And that Jamie says “I forgive you,” but deep down holds a grudge.
Because grudges aren’t always from a refusal to forgive, but often from unresolved feelings. I don’t believe this is really how to teach forgiveness.
Pull out these fun connecting questions to share some laughs with your precious ones!
Use them at:
- meal times
- car rides
- as a “calm down” trick
- for dinner time conversation
- or any time the day is getting chaotic or
- you need a reset to connect.
How to Teach Forgiveness
Here are some points dealing with how to teach forgiveness that I have learned over the years:
Forgiveness is a process that should not be rushed.
It’s the injured party who should forgive. There’s a great quote about unforgiveness I want to reference here, because I don’t want anyone to think I support holding grudges.
By teaching our children to go to their sibling right after they’ve hurt them and say, “I was wrong, please forgive me,” you’re putting pressure on the other child to reach a point in the forgiveness process they may not be at.
There should be time to release their feelings, not stuff them in their emotional basement .
Forgiveness must come.
Not because someone asked for it, but because it’s a good thing to do.
If Jamie is made to “forgive” before she’s ready it will be false. She may not have actually forgiven and might even feel more resentment towards her brother because she’s supposed to just be “over it.”
Nor will John have learned that real life consequences exist when you hurt another person.
Saying you forgive someone is not the same as forgiving someone.
If our children learn that saying, “I forgive you” is all that forgiveness is, they are deceived.
Although forgiveness is a freeing action, learning to teach forgiveness it can be difficult. Oh sure, a kick from a brother, a small white lie, one sibling taking something without asking… these aren’t major heartaches.
Some things can be forgiven quickly and there is no need to dwell on it. Still, a child must engage with what’s happened and then choose to release that person.
That is true forgiveness.
They won’t do that if your house rule puts them on the spot to respond to the “guilty” sibling with “I forgive you.”
Emotions are a H U G E part of a young child’s life. These “I Am Feeling” cards will reduce tantrums, meltdowns, and help your little one learn emotional awareness.Learn More
Forgiveness is a choice, a gift.
Forgiveness is a must for us, for our own benefit and well-being.
But, to the person who receives the forgiveness, it’s a gift. Would you go up to another person and say, “Excuse me, I just drove your bike into a wall for fun. Will you hurry up and fix it so I can ride it again?”
No, no you wouldn’t. Why? Because you don’t hurt someone else and then ask for a favor. When you hurt someone you apologize with a humble heart and work to repair that relationship.
Instead of going up to them and asking, “Will you forgive me?” a better question would be, “What can I do to mend this?”
What Teaching Forgiveness Looks Like in Action
In the situation above, I would hope it played out like this:
Jamie was able to take the time needed to work through her feelings.
It hurt to be publicly ridiculed. It was embarrassing to be called names, and humiliating that her own brother would laugh instead of telling them to stop.
As her mother I would encourage her to process her feelings with the goal of forgiveness and reconciliation. I would allow John to feel the weight of his poor choices, and have him seek to repair and restore their relationship.
I would not undermine Jamie’s pain by thinking it will all be over with a “will you forgive me?” on the same night it happened.
I want to teach my children to forgive from their heart and to let go of grudges.
Bitterness, resentment, and unforgiveness are poisons to the soul.
I also want to teach my children that hurting others has real consequences and that forgiveness is not always meted out as we would like.
In fact, some people may never extend that gift to you. Even if you ask nicely.
And at the bottom of all this… I want my children to draw a parallel to God and the forgiveness He offers us. We aren’t forgiven because we have good manners. It’s not because we deserve it. We are forgiven in spite of the fact that we don’t deserve it.
Don’t end the day with anxiety, stress, and a full mind.
This evening brain dump journal sheet will help you get in a peaceful mindset so you too can sleep peacefully through the night.
A humble heart offers an apology without expecting anything in return.
And, a forgiving heart releases the other from wrongdoing, whether or they ask or not.
Such superb points. People don’t often stop to think about the underlying messages they’re teaching when they teach forgiveness as a form of polite behavior. Bravo, you!
Rachel Norman says
Thanks, KT. I struggled to post it because I didn’t want to seem like I don’t value forgiveness, NOT TRUE AT ALL. I’ve just heard one too many kid flippantly say “forgive me” when they aren’t the least bit sorry.
I can see what you mean by not wanting the offender to say “sorry” without meaning it. But I don’t totally agree with this post. I don’t think encouraging a child to apologize is the same as the other child saying “I forgive you.” They’re two different actions. The offended party can say “I’m not ready to forgive you yet,” if they aren’t ready. I see where you’re coming from on it, but I don’t agree. Apologizing is really hard for some people and kids, even ones who feel remorseful. I know adults who find it hard. In our family we all, including me, apologize when we’ve done wrong– I encourage the kids even to apologize to me. Sorry is a weird word in English because it doesn’t really explain its own meaning– it means “I feel remorseful” but we even say it sometimes when someone stubs their toe. I can see the value of having a wait period, but I’d still want to coach the offender in what to say, and follow through with making sure they say it. It’s still an important part of relationships to be able to ask for forgiveness. I don’t know, maybe your modeling it would be enough to teach it to the kids– every family is different and every kid is different. But I know my daughter really balks at apologizing or asking for forgiveness even when she is obviously feeling sorry. I guess that’s human pride. :) I encourage her that she’ll feel better and it’s important to say, so that she is in the habit of seeking a resolution quickly. I always find that it looks good on paper to give the kids space to do the right thing themselves… but then it seems like most kids need more coaching than that. In the scenerio you brought up I guess I would have wanted my mom to help my brother apologize, assuming he was sincere, as soon as possible. Don’t let the sun go down upon your anger, right? It seems to me that a sincere apology and discussion CAN be part of a person’s forgiveness process. Unfortunately sometimes we have to forgive without it, but we don’t have to. I much prefer when my husband apologizes quickly for doing wrong. It’s good for our relationship. We can still teach how to not stuff feelings and let go of anger. Sometimes, at least for me, forgiveness comes first, and then feelings follow. It’s more a choice, kind of like love, or worship… our minds are masters of our feelings. Often our feelings follow our choices. Anyway, not trying to bash, hope you don’t mind the long rambly comment… I almost never comment on anything… for some reason this struck a chord with me. :) What I CAN agree with is that we should seek for sincerity in both kids. I wouldn’t mind forcing an apology as much as I would mind forcing forgiveness. But either way, the idea of giving a little wait time might help both parties.
Rachel Norman says
Hey Britt, thanks so much for taking the time to share your thoughts! I love so much of what you said, and it’s an interesting (and true) point that often it’s hard to apologize and when one deos the other person needs to give more than just, “Heck no, I’m still mad!” I remember one time in my mid-20’s a friend had really hurt my feelings and she came in immediately to say she was sorry, but I just couldn’t talk yet. I handled it wrong and pushed her away and we had “weirdness” for weeks. Finally, at the same time, we were both like “I’m so sorry!!!” and we forgave and moved on. I believe you’re right that it’s harder in practice to do, so I’d say I want to encourage my kids to go apologize 100%. I guess I need to be clearer on saying that it’s vital the wronged party apologize, but asking forgiveness need not be part of the apology. Like, “I’m sorry that I hurt you and it was wrong of me to do.” I think that’s easy to swallow even if you’re still mad? It’s compliated stuff and you’re right, it’s all a process. Thanks again for sharing, it was such a valuable comment!
Yeah, I totally get what you mean! I think we agree more than I thought at first… lol. It’s all semantics and language, right? I read a book called the Five Languages of Apology for a class. Really a cool book. They talk about the different ways to apologize… describe what you did wrong, say you feel bad, acknowledge how you think they might feel… I don’t remember all of them. But once when I really felt like I’d blown it, I used them all on one person, haha… she wasn’t ready to forgive yet at the time. But it is such a good thing to have those “I’m so sorry” hug and cry moments where you both can move on!
Rachel Norman says
I might read that, Britt!! I’m going to google it now. I think I just have had a few too many times someone really really really really (a lot of reallys, ha) hurt me and then be like “can you forgive me?” and think it’s over. Of course, having had to work through a lot of serious forgiveness is both difficult AND good for the soul :)
I think your comments are spot on, Britt! A great book that summarizes and “The Five Languages of Apology” is the updated, more concise version, “When Sorry Isn’t Enough” by Gary Chapman (this newer one doesn’t include the Helping Children to Apologize part). My husband and I have exact opposite apology languages, which was great to discuss and challenge us… and it has been very helpful in allowing me to process ongoing hurt and brokenness in my relationship with my sister in law. I highly recommend this book! Apology and forgiveness were never part of my childhood or how I was raised, so I can begin with learning more about it myself and becoming a better model of that with my children.
I love this! When I saw the title, I thought “Hmmm, I don’t know about this,” but now that I’ve read it I completely see your point and agree. It also made me realize that I do this very thing with God all too often- I ask for forgiveness without really acknowledging and repenting for the sin. We should not take His forgiveness or others’ forgiveness for granted. Great point!
Rachel Norman says
Thanks, Paige. I do that too, sometimes with God. I hadn’t even thought about it like that so thanks for bringing that parallel. We want to get straight to not feeling guilty without working through why we feel guilty!
In our house we do these steps:
1) the Offender has to repeat to the parent WHAT they did wrong AND what they SHOULD have done. (We as parents do this too when we apologise to our kids)
2) the Offender must then apologise to the parent for hurting our child & we forgive them
3) the Offender must then go and apologise to the “Victim” and clearly state what they DID do and what they SHOULD have done (by now the lesson is really driving home)
4) the Victim MUST say I forgive you to the Offender.
5) the Offender asks “May I give you a hug?”
6) the Victim has the RIGHT to say “no thankyou, maybe later.” This gives the Victim time to sit with how they feel. For the Offender, it gives them a sense that sometimes actions can do emotional harm and can take time to heal.
7) the Offender must accept this and walk away
Rachel Norman says
Thanks for sharing this, Jane. I think that’s wise that they don’t have to reconcile with a hug right off the bat if that violates the space and emotions of the victim!
I really like the idea behind this post and I’ve written down those two bold sentences you have at the end for my family to study :)
However I feel the need to point out one thing: if we base our teaching on the Bible we should put aside our feelings and forgive *immediately* whether the offender asks or not. The Bible doesn’t teach us to process our feelings then forgive — it says quite plainly our heart or “feelings” should not be trusted. Holding on to hurt feelings, even for a short time, and forming a grudge is the opposite of how God calls us to forgive. The verse (among others) doesn’t say “Forgive seventy times seven, but only after you feel like it.” As you pointed out unforgiveness is like a poison. Saying its okay to wait until the child is “ready” to forgive is sending the wrong message as well. Even in “grown up” life we have to put aside our feelings regularly to follow God’s commands, yes?
That said it is a GREAT idea to encourage the offender to make it right and the victim to talk it out, because feelings are important, they should just be secondary.
Rachel Norman says
Sara, thanks for sharing your thoughts. You are right the Bible doesn’t ask us to wait to forgive, that is very true! I hope that I can teach my kids to immediately begin the process of forgiveness (deciding to forgive, then processing the feelings that come up through this lens of forgiveness) and I also hope I can teach my kids to actually repair the damage they’ve done in their actions, not just think all is well because they asked for forgiveness and it was granted. That was the main goal of my post, to not raise kids who feel entitled to forgiveness, but to raise kids who feel compelled (from within) to forgive. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts, they make the post all the more rich!
I’m not a mum (English) ;-) I have waited a long time already but read these blogs in readiness.
When I read the title I knew where you were going to go with it because it’s an obvious answer IF the question is asked but it’s not a point that comes to light except in the light of if someone asks for forgiveness you must forgive! But it’s so true that a process needs to be worked through and you explained it very well.
A few weeks ago I went to school reunion. This is the first ever reunion of 25 years since we left senior school. If you’d have asked me when I left school if I would ever go to a reunion I would have wryly said “not over my dead body!” I hated school! I wish I had been homeschooled! My school years despite everyone telling me they are the best of my life were my worst and I would never want to go back. If there was a girl to be bullied in school it would be me! Even when I became a mature student at 21!! So when one of those bullies came up to me and asked for my forgiveness 25 years later. I could say “I forgive you” for 2 reasons. 1. time had passed for me to get a better understanding of bullies and why they bully, and 2. because I had been in touch with other of my schoolbs ullies on social media and just decided to start from a clean slate and built adult relationships with them and had started to put away those school pains and let forgiveness begin to flow. And so I had managed to reach that place the other side of that bullying but to have that girl come to me and ask forgiveness made me want to honour that step she took and meet her halfway. Forgiving her after that time,was easy because I didn’t expect to be asked!
Ok tired and rambling somewhat but you are so right! If she’d have asked me for forgiveness 25 years ago when I was an almost adult Christian would I have said I forgive you but not meant it because not enough time had past?
As a Christian parent it is our job to teach our children both sides of the story and also to teach them there is no unforgivable act and at times we may have to forgive someone who won’t ask for it or are unable to ask. Because we still need that freedom from vindictiveness! A great line from Forgiveness by Matthew West “the prisoner it really frees is you”
Thank you for your honest posts
God bless you
Rachel Norman says
Teri, thank you thank you thank you so much for this. What a richness to the post your comment added. If she’d have asked the day after her last bullying offense, it would have almost been offensive, huh? But what a generous and godly heart you have to forgive her and give her a clean slate. That’s what forgiveness is, isn’t it? That shows course of her to ask as well. I really appreciated this comment.
I’ve actually been intentional about teaching my kids to ask forgiveness of one another (and as they grow out of toddlerhood I hope to have more discussion about the heart issues behind asking and offering). In my life I’ve probably heard, “I’m sorry” at least 1,000 times, but I’ve only been asked for forgiveness maybe 3 or 4 times. There’s a huge heart difference in saying you’re sorry and asking for forgiveness. Forgiveness is a major heart changer. When I ask it of someone, it’s because I’ve genuinely repented and am seeking to mend the relationship. Ive appreciated reading your perspective, but I suppose we’re just doing it a little differently.
Rachel Norman says
Leah, I think maybe we are thinking the same things, just wording them differently! I am so with you that an “I’m sorry” when you know they are not, is not real repentance.
MaryEllen @ Imperfect Homemaker says
Good thoughts, Rachel. I wasn’t sure where this post was going to be heading when I saw it on Pinterest, but now I see where you’re coming from.
“A humble heart offers an apology without expecting anything in return.
A forgiving heart releases the other from wrongdoing, whether or they ask or not.”
Those two statements right there are the reason I try to deal with the both the offender and the one who was wronged privately. If we are all sitting there discussing it together the one who did wrong can easily focus on my encouraging the other to forgive, and the one who needs to learn forgiveness starts focusing on the fact that the other should apologize. They each need to learn to look inward and realize their own responsibility to do right in the situation regardless of whether the other person ever apologizes or forgives.
Thanks for putting your thoughts out there, Rachel! Good stuff!
Rachel Norman says
MaryEllen, I really like how you talk about discussing it together. You are too right that each looks to the other to “right it” while sometimes neglecting doing their own portion! Thanks for your thoughts :)
I am a new reader here and have found so much helpful stuff aready! However, I need to disagree with this post.
You mix up two things: The decision to forgive, and let go of the right to revenge yourself or hold a grudge, and the emotional healing process that takes time. Some hurts take a long time (years!) to heal. We may not wait to forgive until we feel like it. Forgiveness is a decision of the will that often goes against how we feel. Forgiving is the first step in the reconciliation process, not the last.
We also ask God to forgive us ( Lord’s prayer??Many other Scipture passages also…) even though it is a gift. So God does not have a problem with us asking for a gift. So my children will continue to ask forgiveness, decide to recognize their sin, and pray for feelings of remorse to come, and and will also be required to offer forgiveness, even when they do not feel like it, and pray for God to heal the hurt in their hearts and restore relationship. I fully agree we must not pretend there is no healing to be done. But I think you are on the wrong path with this solution.
Rachel Norman says
Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Angelika! I like what you said that forgiveness is the first step in the reconciliation process, not the last. I actually agree with all that you said! I’ve just seen it play out first hand that kids are not sorry, are not repentant, and say “Will you forgive me?” just so the situation can be over. My point is for the “offender” mainly. I believe the “victim” should offer forgiveness immediately (which I teach my kids actively and which they do). I simply think it’s an entitlement attitude to arrogantly approach someone you’ve wronged and say “Will you forgive me” instead of, “I’m sorry for what I have done, how can I repair this?”
Beth Almeida says
Oh I completely get what you are saying here and THIS is how I want to raise my son ( & any other children God blesses us with ).
I immediately identified with what you wrote about ‘saying you forgive doesn’t mean you really have’ or something like that. I gave a lot of that in my family and a little of that in my heart. I lived in a home where we were expected to “get over it” so we didn’t make my momma mad. She had a short, hair trigger temper and we stuffed rather than risking making her mad.
I don’t want my child/children to feel that way. If something or someone hurts their feelings, no matter how silly it may seem to others, I want them to know that their feelings are justified but I also want them to know that I expect them to work it out according to the ways of the New Testament.
Rachel Norman says
Thanks so much for sharing, Beth. I totally don’t want kids (or adults) walking on eggshells either, but to feel free to share their feelings and forgive in their own time. A forced forgiveness is not true forgiveness.