Speaking Forgiveness to Kids


By Allison Hull

My eldest son is amazing. He is always looking to do more to help others. He pushes to go to church, not once, but at least twice on Sunday. He guilts me if he has to miss. He begs to go on shut-in visits and sing to everyone. He talks to anyone he meets about Christ and church, and invites strangers to come to church all the time. I routinely get told that we are raising him right, that he’s a joy to be around, how wonderful he is when asked to do something, and how selfless he is. We have been told that he truly shows Christ’s love in all he does.

I really could not ask for a better kid. Yes, he fights with his brothers, whines about his homework, and sometimes chooses to do the wrong thing. But if I could strive to act like somebody, I would work to act like him.

Yet even with all the good he does, I catch my son crying at night or tearing up during the day. It’s usually after he’s done one thing wrong the entire day. I sit down with him on his bed and ask him why he’s upset.

“Mom, I’m so horrible. I do bad things allllll the time.”

“No, honey, no. You see that dad and I mess up and sin a lot too? Remember when I yelled at you earlier? I was wrong, I did bad. But what’s great about us is that Christ forgives you, and me, and your dad, and your brothers. He forgives us all and died so we can live with Him. Isn’t that great?”

He nods, lip trembling, barely holding back another set of tears.

“Honey? What’s wrong? You’re forgiven!”

“But mom, I do so many more bad things than everyone else. I just can’t stop. I’m just so baaaaaaaddddd!” he wails. He will smack himself when he gets a homework problem wrong. Anytime he messes up he just gets really upset with himself. No matter how I try to convince him that we are all sinful, he just has this idea that he does worse than others.

I’ve actually started to see a pattern in other boys, too. A friend of mine has a boy just a little younger. He’s obsessed with asking for forgiveness. He will get in trouble because he’s not paying attention, because he’s praying for forgiveness for daydreaming. Another friend of mine has a son who is very, very scared of the devil getting him for any bad that he’s doing and has started asking if what he’s doing is a sin, constantly.

Now, this might be with girls of the 7-10 age group as well. I wouldn’t know as my world revolves around boy things. But I seem to have stumbled onto a major problem with our kids. We have driven home this veggietale mentality that you must do good. You know what I’m talking about. Veggietales follows the pattern of an action that’s bad, then showing another character doing the right thing, reinforcing using a Bible verse and saying God wants you to do good, and then ending. We push this whole idea that God loves a child who follows the commandments and is a joy to be around. Which is great because they really want to please God and their parents. But then the guilt sets in. They’re not able to do what Veggietales tells them to do. At least not fully. And it eats at them.

These kids are older, but still kids. They want their family to be happy, and they want to be happy, too. And they’ve realized that even though they do all these awesome things, they still mess up. All the praise songs tell them to do their best, and yet they aren’t able to all the time. And here’s how we are failing our kids. We have preached weak Gospel to them. “I forgive you, Christ forgives you…BUT you need to do better.” I’m always correcting his behavior, telling him he knows better than to hit his brother. That he’s a new person in Christ and should be able to stop talking back. I’m always adding that qualifier to his forgiveness, and it’s been drilled into his head that he can’t just be forgiven, he’s got to DO something now that he’s forgiven.

We are watering down the gospel when we tell our kids they have to change their behavior right after telling them we love and forgive them as Christ loves them. Yes, they are a new man in Christ, but they still have that sinner popping up throughout the day and night, never far away from that newness. Guilting them all the time is setting them up for failure from the start.

So I have a proposal. I’m trying something new, and if you have an older child that feels the law like this, I want to see if it works with them as well. When they mess up, when they do something wrong, go to them immediately. Get on their level and speak about what just happened. How it was wrong and sinful BUT thanks be to God there is Christ. Speak about what Christ did on the cross, the suffering He went through, and the reason He did it. To take all the sin unto Himself. To save your child, you, and your family. To give us all eternal life with Him. Emphasize how that makes you feel. How it makes them feel that Christ forgives all that sin and takes it away as if it never happened.

Then stop there.

Don’t try to add to it.

My hope is that emphasizing how joyful that makes us will have the good works flowing without the guilt overwhelming these young children. I’m hoping that if I keep saying he’s forgiven and that Christ wipes away all that sin, that he will start to believe it. It seems my push to make good, law-abiding citizens has made my eldest all too aware of his sin in any capacity. So I’m hoping by ending on the soothing Gospel I can assuage his fears and pain.

I feel saddened that I failed him by not giving him the full gospel, and I’m saddened that so many other children feel the same way. Christ forgives me, may that faith now continue to shower others with the forgiveness of sins.

Photo source. Creative Commons.


  • Katie F.

    Excellent piece. It is hard as a parent to walk between teaching our children good behavior and making sure they know the Gospel is free and given to them more even than they think they need.

    I will add, though, not for this but in general. As a pre-teen the thoughts and feelings of being “so bad” and “never doing enough” and other theological terms can sometimes be a way they vocalize the feeling of depression. Gospel is always the first gift we give them but if it seems excessive it’s can be something else to look at.

  • Allison

    @Katie F. #-49

    Thank you for that reminder. So often we overlook those types of things as fleeting emotions and not something deeper. I will definitely keep my eyes open for something more serious if God feelings of inadequacy are overwhelming again.

  • Jon

    You can also speak to them directly the absolution. “Believe all your sins forgiven in the name and blood of Jesus.” Encourage them to take those words as from the lips of Jesus Himself, as we are of the priesthood of believers and it is the Holy Spirit within that speaks forgiveness with authority as the keys to the kingdom are given to us.

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