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 a parent 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 parents or other adults in their lives who bear grudges from childhood. They carry these grudges forward and let the inability to forgive impact every aspect of their lives. Children are always watching and 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. One time in a group, I explained we would to be talking about forgiveness that session. 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, saying, “Oh, come on now. It couldn’t be that bad. Besides, the Bible says we must forgive those who hurt us. You have to forgive your parents.”

I didn’t say that. I explained I hoped that in time and through prayer, he could someday come to the decision to forgive her. It was his choice. Many children won’t ever 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 wounds are deep, and many are fresh. We can love them and show them forgiveness through our witness.

  • Provide stories from your own life about forgiveness.
  • Allow other adults to give examples of how they have forgiven someone who 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 kind and forgiving things you could say?”
  • Tell Bible stories about forgiveness. The story of the prodigal son is a good one, but keep in mind to these kids, it’s the parent who left. Be sure to give comments and an explanation they can relate to, or the story will be lost on the children of divorce.
  • Tell the story of Jesus and how He forgives our sins. Tell His story over and over and not just at Easter.

Regarding the single parent

Encourage single parents to discuss with their children what forgiveness is, how to ask for forgiveness, and how to grant forgiveness.

What is forgiveness

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

How to ask for forgiveness

This is a little harder for children to do, especially if one or both parents have not practiced it in front of them. Help single parents explain to the children that for the next few weeks, they need to practice asking for forgiveness with each child in the home. Tell them to 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 goes a long way in helping 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 all 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 could be amazed at how the children in many of our small groups grasp the idea of forgiveness.


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


This article is updated and adapted from an article originally published on the Kids & Divorce blog on July 27, 2015.

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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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