By Kris Wolfe

[En español]

It’s more than a song; it’s a mysterious way of living. Letting go our suffering and forgiveness are a cornerstone of Christian living, but it’s a concept that brings shivers to the strongest of Christians. It has been said that forgiveness is not for the weak.

I have a very sweet friend who is so kind and thoughtful that she in saintlike. She is the first to check on those who are hurting, to offer a monetary donation for a good cause or to shed a tear in honor of the downtrodden. Imagine my surprise when she told me that she was harboring unforgiveness for over a year. Someone did the unforgivable: they hurt her children. For a mother and a defender of children in our community, this was beyond her comprehension, and out of her reach to forgive. But the anger and unforgiveness was causing her physical and emotional pain.

Forgiving past wounds is one of the hardest things that we can ever do. Forgiving someone that is still hurting us or someone we love feels next to impossible. And it’s completely counterintuitive. If we forgive them, won’t they just hurt us again? What kind of message am I sending them if I don’t lord this mistake over them? Will they think I am a pushover? Will I lose my self-respect?

Forgiveness can feel awfully close to failure and eerily similar to raw vulnerability. Imagine being naked, with tears flowing down your face, walking through the town square. This is what forgiveness can feel like.

But is it worth it? You bet your britches! Forgiveness is the removal of heavy and loathsome chains, but not for the person you are forgiving, rather for you.

But there are other people who benefit from your ability to forgive, and your children are the most likely candidates to receive the benefits of an inheritance of forgiveness. The problem is that we rarely see past our hurt or our rage to notice how our unforgiveness towards others is negatively impacting our children.

Kids who grow up with parents who carry grudges learn how to carry them too. Unforgiving children can become angry and bitter adults who struggle to ever find peace and joy. Did you know that unforgiveness can be a generational curse? It can, and it is more prevalent that you might realize. Any family would be hard-pressed to not be able to identify at least one family grudge that has been lingering for years.

Yet do we really want our legacy to be the ability to stay angry and indignant or do we want to choose a different legacy that leaves room for love, peace and happiness? If you think that you can drudge through life with unforgiveness in your heart, and encourage love and light in your children, you will eventually find that you took a wrong turn. So what can you do to help your children learn how to forgive?

12 Steps to teaching children forgiveness:

  1. Admit when you are wrong—It doesn’t matter if you wronged your kids or offended a stranger, if you are in the wrong, admit it to your children. Humility seems damning, until you try it. And our kids need to see us admitting our mistakes.

  2. Apologize—Now say you’re sorry. Kids deserve apologies too. They need to feel valued and that their feelings matter. If you wronged another person in front of your children, let them know that you apologized.

  3. Accept their apologies—When your kids hurt you or make mistakes, give them the same grace you would like if you were in their shoes. It doesn’t mean that you condone their behavior. It means you trust their heart and their character even when their behavior doesn’t align with it.

  4. Forgive daily issues quickly—When someone cuts you off in traffic are you flipping them the bird? When someone bumps into you at the grocery with their cart are you mumbling “idiot” to yourself? Many times throughout the day we have the opportunity to offer forgiveness by offering a friendly wave, a kind smile, or a sincere “it’s okay” when someone steps on our toes. When our kids see us doing this, they will learn that little issues aren’t big deals, do not have to ruin our day, or sour our attitude.

  5. Don’t turn mistakes into character flaws—If someone hurts you unintentionally or behaves out of character, offer them one of the greatest gifts ever: the benefit of the doubt. Do not attack their character. In fact, unless you know for certain that they acted in malice, fill in the “gap” with trust. This skill will save you and your children a ton of unnecessary grief.

  6. Watch your attitude and complaining—While not directly related to unforgiveness, your attitude towards inconveniences and unfortunate events will teach your children how to respond when things just don’t go their way. If locking yourself out of the house sends you into a cursing rampage, then what is a real life disturbance going to do to you? And what are your kids going to do when things go poorly for them?

  7. Forgive those who have wronged you—I am not saying to be a doormat or a martyr, but staying mad will likely not change a thing about what is already done. Did you get passed over for a promotion that you feel certain you deserved? Take this opportunity to evaluate how you can improve, ask fair questions and keep your chin up. Share some of these positive stories with your kids. This way, when your daughter gets passed over for the lead in the play, she will not feel inclined to jump to bitterness or frustration.

  8. Let them hear you pray for the ability to forgive others—Sometimes forgiveness can take months or even years. And that is not the end of the world. In the meantime, pray for your ability to just be open to the idea of forgiveness. If your kids know that this is a struggle for you, ask them to join you in praying. Now they know that they do not have to shoulder the weight of unforgiveness alone. The truth is, the Holy Spirit may have to do a great deal of work in us before forgiveness will even be possible.

  9. Pray for those who have wronged you—And I don’t mean pray for them to be swallowed up by an earthquake. I mean pray for their behavior, acknowledge in prayer that they have hurt you, and be willing to see them how God sees them. It is difficult to stay mad forever when you realize that God loves them too.

  10. Set good boundaries moving forward—Just because someone has wronged you for years doesn’t mean that you have to remain in this unhealthy pattern. And just because you are related to someone doesn’t mean you have to hang out with him or her. Forgiveness is not the same as offering them permission to hurt you time and time again. Sometimes, a relationship is so toxic that we have to severely limit our interaction or end it altogether. Your kids need to see you valuing yourself and your safety so they will learn to do the same. You can still forgive this wrongdoer without breaking bread with them on holidays. And if you must sever ties, it’s important to explain to your children why Aunt Kim or neighbor Eric won’t be coming over anymore. Keep it age appropriate, but demonstrate your ability to set boundaries when needed.

  11. Don’t beat yourself up for your mistakes—I am hesitant to say, “forgive yourself” because that often feels impossible. But give yourself the grace that you so easily grant others. Don’t hold yourself to impossible standards. And ask for God’s forgiveness. If He can forgive you, who are you to determine that you are unforgiveable? Are your thoughts better than His? He loves you. So it’s okay to love yourself.

  12. Get counseling—If unforgiveness haunts you, causes you stress, manifests in insomnia, or promotes illness, you need someone professional to talk with. Consider a therapist, a pastor or even a lay counselor to open up to. Unforgiveness, left unchecked, can poison our minds and bodies and utterly rob our joy.

Ultimately forgiveness is more for ourselves than whomever we forgive. In fact, we don’t always have to tell them that we have forgiven them to make it count. Forgiveness is an interaction between our God and us. Of course it may bring you closure to say, “I forgive you,” and by all means please do this if you are able. But if it is not safe for you to interact with this person, if they refuse to see you, or if they have passed away, you can still forgive them, and you can if you make it a priority.

“Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: and be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” (Eph. 4:31-32)

One more thing: seeking any form of revenge in order to forgive is not the example we want to set for our children. Forgiveness does not have strings or conditions attached. It is a gift, it is godly and it is good. And if you absolutely must “do something” to make yourself feel better, then remember that the best “revenge” is living well. That doesn’t mean letting your anger become your motivation toward success.

True forgiveness grounded in faith, means seeking goodness and living out of love regardless of who hurt you. It means valuing yourself and your life enough to allow yourself a softened heart, ready to receive happiness and radiate love. In the end, it means taking off your victim cloak and replacing it with a crown of victory earned through doing only what the noblest can practice: forgiveness.


Kris Wolfe
About Kris Wolfe
Tennessee | United States

Kris Wolfe is a Christian, wife and mother. She is a freelance writer who focuses on spiritual and practical encouragement, writes lessons for small group purposes for churches, and is also a small group coach. Kris has a master’s degree in Biblical Counseling from Luther Rice University and Seminary and is a listed TN Supreme Court Rule 31 Mediator.

Kris covers topics such as dating, marriage, parenting, divorce, post-divorce recovery, and the blended family. Read more from Kris at: Clarksville, TN Online and her website.

Care to Share?

Articles By Kris Wolfe


I used to think I had great self-esteem. But I used to confuse self-esteem and confidence. I had confidence, to a degree. Self-esteem? Maybe not so much. Neighbors told me I had pretty hair and nice eyes; so I had confidence in my appearance. My teachers told me that I was smart; so I had confidence in my intellect. [Read more...] [En español]


Six positive pregnancy tests, each with weeks filled with elation and big plans; each followed with certain loss and bouts of grief, all in a span of five years. While this may seem like pure tragedy, senseless suffering, there is so much more to comprehend in this story than grief and loss. [Read more...] [En español]


Love. It’s a word that seems like it should be written in bubble letters, colored in cotton candy pink and surrounded by a dozen puffy hearts stabbed with arrows. But there is no more powerful word in our language. [Read more...] [En español]


I didn’t really grow up in the church, but I didn’t really have an anti-church experience either. In fact, I would say my family had one foot firmly planted on both paths. Imagine how hard it was for us to get anywhere like that. [Read more...] [En español]


I cringe thinking about “secular influences” on my children, not just because they can be bad, but also because I don’t want my children developing a “holier-than-thou” attitude. I want them to be firmly planted in Christ and derive their strength and identity from Him. [Read more...] [En español]


It’s more than a song; it’s a mysterious way of living. Letting go our suffering and forgiveness are a cornerstone of Christian living, but it’s a concept that brings shivers to the strongest of Christians. It has been said that forgiveness is not for the weak. [Read more...] [En español]


Ask any parent what they hope for in their children and almost all of them will mention happiness. We all desire happiness for our children and ourselves. We can even worship our own happiness at times, chasing down impossible standards of perfect happiness found only in a children’s book. [Read more...] [En español]


If you are a tough love kind of parent, you might not even care if your kids feel a sense of belonging, so long as they have a motivation to perform and behave. But do you remember what it was like to be twelve or fifteen? Did belonging matter to you? Of course it did! [Read more...] [En español]


You may have heard the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). A young man demands his share of the family estate in advance from his father. His father obliges, yet the son runs off and squanders his fortune. Near starvation, he eventually returns home and his father welcomes him immediately and even throws a feast for him. All is well that ends well, right? [Read more...] [En español]


Work. It’s a labor of love. Or is it? People say, “Do what you love and you won’t work a day in your life,” implying of course that if you follow your passion, then it won’t feel like work. But is this really true? [Read more...] [En español]

THE FAMILY VACAY: The Good, The Bad & The Memorable

So I just got back from a weeklong cruise with two t/w/een minions. They are twelve and fifteen. You know the emoji with the big unblinking freaked out eyes? That was me—just trying to imagine the craziness that would ensue on our trip with these two. In other words, I wouldn’t call my boys easy. [Read more...] [En español]

CHOOSING TO LOVE YOUR LOT (When Happiness is a Choice)

There is nothing more aggravating than seeing someone you care about settling for less than they deserve; except perhaps watching them miss out on happiness because they aren’t willing to be happy with their “lot.” [Read more...]


My husband and I took the trip of a lifetime. Ten days in Italy: Rome, Florence and Venice. It was everything you would expect. But there is always the realm of the unexpected. We had just eaten dinner with strangers from all over the world while overlooking the city of Florence at sunset. [Read more...]


A healthy life involves well-articulated priorities. But who should set our priorities? It seems pretty obvious, right? My life: my priorities. But is this biblical? Better yet, is this even sinful? [Read more...]

CODEPENDENCY VS. FORGIVENESS: When Forgiveness Becomes Destructive

Forgiveness is life-giving, relationship-healing and freeing beyond measure. But sometimes when we think we are forgiving someone, we can actually unknowingly be giving him or her permission to keep hurting us. How do we know the difference? [Read more...]