Why we’re teaching our kids to ask for forgiveness

The following post is from Emily of Live Renewed:

Why we're teaching our kids to ask for forgiveness

You’ve probably seen the situation many times: one kid hurts another child so their parent takes them aside for a talk. They tell the kid it’s not nice to hit (or kick, spit, bite, hurt feelings, etc.) and ask them to say they are sorry to the child that they hurt.

The offender hangs his head, mumbles a barely audible, “I’m sorry.” The other kid says, “It’s okay.” And they move on, sometimes continuing to play without skipping a beat, other times avoiding each other with shame or anger in their eyes.

For a long time, this was how we parented our kids too, but I’ve come to realize that there is something really missing from this exchange: the importance of asking for forgiveness. And this is not just true of this situation when kids are involved, but also with us as adults when we hurt one another.

Because honestly, is it really okay that a kid hits, as long as he apologizes afterward? Or if a spouse speaks harshly to their husband or wife and then apologizes and the spouse says, “It’s okay,” is it really?

While I do think it’s important to teach our children to be quick to apologize if they have hurt or offended someone, we can’t just stop there. When we say “I’m sorry” and leave it at that, expecting the other person to respond, it’s kinda like throwing a ball of fire at them and expecting them to catch it. We use saying we’re sorry to absolve us of our responsibility in the matter, and place it on the other person to deal with it.

why we're teaching our kids to ask for forgiveness

I started to ask myself what the appropriate response is when someone says “I’m sorry”. It’s not a question, but a statement, so it doesn’t necessarily require an answer. And is it right to say it’s okay, when really it’s not okay?

Of course you can always forgive someone even if they haven’t asked for forgiveness, but I think there is something important lost in the relationship when we don’t ask for forgiveness. How do we rebuild the relationship between the offender and the offended? Does a passing “I’m sorry” and “It’s okay” do anything to repair the relationship? I would say probably not. There is a big difference between saying saying “It’s okay” and “I forgive you”; they are not the same thing.

Instead, we have started teaching our kids that after they apologize for wronging another person, they also need to ask for their forgiveness. “I’m sorry” is followed by, “Will you forgive me?”

why we're teaching our kids to ask for forgiveness

And while I’m teaching my kids to ask for forgiveness, I’m learning the importance of asking for it myself. Whether I have hurt my kids or my husband with my words or actions, I also need to ask them to forgive me. My kids are modeling this for me, and I’m modeling it for them.

Asking for forgiveness can be hard. It’s very humbling. It’s not just saying you’re sorry and moving on, but truly acknowledging and taking responsibility for the way you have hurt or offended another person.

Asking for forgiveness gives the person who was hurt the choice to forgive or not forgive. They don’t have to think or say that what happened is okay, but they can accept the apology and offer forgiveness even though what that person did was wrong.

In our family’s experience though, asking for forgiveness also softens the heart of the person who was hurt. It hard to look someone in the eyes who is asking for your forgiveness and say, “No, I don’t forgive you!” But we do let our kids decide whether they choose to forgive each other or not, and we also teach them about the importance of forgiveness; even if they’re not ready to forgive right away, they need to come back and let the other person know when they are ready.

why we're teaching our kids to ask for forgiveness

Asking for forgiveness is the first step toward repairing the relationship after it has been hurt. Forgiveness builds trust back into a relationship. When an offender asks for forgiveness it shows that they are trying to restore the relationship. It’s hard to stay mad at someone when they have asked for your forgiveness. If you do, you have to be careful that you’re not holding a grudge and building up a hardness in your heart. You have an active role in the restoration of the relationship, not just to brush an offense off with, “It’s okay”, but the choice to forgive or not forgive

Asking for forgiveness is so important both for the offender and for the offended. It softens and changes hearts and restores relationships.

After all, isn’t forgiveness at the very heart of what we believe as Christians? Aren’t we following in the footsteps of the one who has called us to forgive others as He has forgiven us? And when we ask for, and receive His forgiveness our relationship is restored and built even stronger. How can I expect my kids to understand and ask for forgiveness from their Heavenly Father if they can’t ask for it from each other? And how can I expect them to understand the forgiveness they have received through Christ if I don’t model it for them?

And so, we teach our kids and expect them to ask for forgiveness after they apologize when they have hurt someone with their words or actions. It is building the relationships in our family — and most importantly, our relationships with Jesus — in the most humbling and beautiful way.

How do you teach your kids the importance of asking for and receiving forgiveness from others? 

Emily McClements is passionate about living with compassion and caring for creation in a way that will impact the world. She is a blessed wife and mama to three young children, and blogs about her family’s journey toward natural and simple living at Live Renewed.
  • Kate

    I think an important part to consider in this is getting your children to the point where they feel remorse and are ready to ask forgiveness. When I was growing up, any time one of my sisters or I hurt each other, my mother would force us to apologize immediately – “I’m sorry I hurt you will you please forgive me,” we’d recite mechanically. The offended party would always reply yes, and then we’d go about our day. This caused a lot of resentment between my sisters and me, and honestly, I don’t feel it was positive long term. Had my mother pulled whichever of us was the offending party aside and talked to us about our actions, she probably could have gotten us to offer a sincere apology on our own.

    • http://lifeyourway.net/ Mandi @ Life Your Way

      I think this is a really important point, Katie. I’ve felt this way before, like I was simply forcing the words without really affecting the heart. I appreciate you putting the danger of that approach into words so I can prioritize going deeper when it comes up!

  • Sara Kilpatrick

    I try to teach by example with my daughter. When I make a parenting mistake with her (something that I feel truly requires an apology from me), I will apologize. I will be sure to make eye contact with her, speak clearly and let her know WHY I was in the wrong. I hope witnessing this from me will help her when I have to urge her to apologize.

    Right now her biggest struggle with apologizing is when she does something by accident. Even if you hurt someone by accident, an apology is usually appropriate :)

  • http://myoverflowingcup.com Heather @ My Overflowing Cup

    I completely agree with you on this post. You are so right that saying you are sorry isn’t quite the same as asking for forgiveness. I also agree with you that both parties benefit in this type of exchange. Most importantly, we should be expressing and modeling forgiveness (both the giving and the receiving) as Christians, as it is the core of what Christ did for us. Beautiful post of a humbling, but necessary act.