Question of the week: How do you discuss the subject of forgiveness with children of divorce?



Forgiveness can be a difficult, sometimes impossible subject to explain when interacting with children who have separated or divorced parents.

Some children may have never had forgiveness modeled for them. Others have heard one of the parents scream sarcastically such as, “I’m sorry you made me hit you.” These kids have no clue what you are talking about when you say the word forgiveness.

Other children have seen one of their parents or other adults in their lives who bear grudges from childhood. They carry those grudges forward and let the inability of not being able to forgive impact every aspect of their lives. Children are watching and always in observing what the adults in their lives do.

Author Bobbie Reed explains in her book, Christian Family Activities for One-Parent Families[1],

Exposing children to the meaning of forgiveness can be the most precious gift you give them. An unforgiving attitude that holds grudges can keep them from being healthy and free to enjoy the future and an abundant life. Children  will find comfort in knowing that God is fair, just and loving and that living together in the spirit of loving forgiveness is the secret to a joyful Christian life.

 Church leaders

In our DivorceCare for Kids groups we talk a lot about forgiveness. Recently I explained to my group that we were going to be talking about forgiveness. One little kid raised his hand and without waiting for me to call on him said emphatically, “Don’t ask me to forgive my mother because I won’t do it!” Whoa! The Lord and I had a lot of work to do.

I could have insisted he forgive his mother by saying, “Oh come on now. It couldn’t be that bad. Besides the Bible says we must forgive those that hurt us. You have to forgive your parents.”

I didn’t say that. I explained that in time and through prayer I hoped someday he could come to the decision to forgive her. It is his choice. Actually children don’t have to forgive their parents. We certainly wish they would but forgiveness, even for children, is a personal choice.

When ministering to these children you need to remember that some of their wounds are deep and many are fresh wounds. We can love them and show them through our witness about forgiveness.

  • Provide stories from your own life about forgiveness
  • Allow other adults to give examples of how they have forgiven someone that hurt them
  • Play a game about forgiving others. Start with small situations such as, “Someone bumped you at school in the cafeteria line. What are some forgiving kind of things you could say?”
  • Tell stories from the Bible about forgiveness. The story of the prodigal son is a good one but keep in mind to these kids it’s the parent that left. Be sure to comment and give an explanation they can relate to or the story will be lost on the child of divorce.
  • Tell the story of Jesus and how He forgives us of our sins. Tell His story over and over and not just at Easter

Single Parent

Discuss with your kids what forgiveness is; how to ask for forgiveness and how to grant forgiveness.

What is forgiveness
You can start with simple things that are on a child’s level such as, “When your sister used your comb when you had told her not to, you could talk to her and forgive her for forgetting.” Then, move to the more difficult things in life. Share some of the things you’ve had to forgive people.

How to ask for forgiveness
This is a little harder for children to do especially if one or both parents have not practiced this in front of the children. Explain to your children that for the next few weeks you are going to practice asking for forgiveness with each of them at home.Have the children practice saying, “I’m sorry. Will you forgive me?” in front of the bathroom mirror. Then gently remind them to say this when dealing with their siblings or with you the single parent.

Granting forgiveness
Sharing personal testimonies of how you have forgiven someone will go a long way in helping your children learn to forgive.If you have forgiven your ex spouse share that with your children. Only share what is age appropriate in the reasons you are forgiving their other parent.Lastly share how Christ forgives each of us. Share with your children your personal testimony of how and when you asked Christ to forgive you.

In DivorceCare and DC4K there is a session dedicated to the subject of forgiveness. One would be amazed at how the children grasp the idea of forgiveness in many of our small groups.

[1] Christian Family Activities for One-Parent Families (Standard Publishing, 1962) p. 68

2 thoughts on “Question of the week: How do you discuss the subject of forgiveness with children of divorce?

  1. Linda, this is an excellent article, and one with which I totally concur ~ thank you. Lesson 11 on Forgiveness is also an excellent one. Keep these great articles coming!

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