Teaching Repentance to Children

Another Sunday afternoon. The kids are playing in their room when my son, Cristiano, cheats by hiding Uno cards under the pillow. He’s always been a sore loser and will cheat before trying to play again to win. This time, his sister, Akaia, caught him and called him out on it.

Instead of getting into a heated argument, raising voices, and laying hands on one another, they decided to do something more venomous: destroy each other’s hearts with words.

  • Akaia says: “I’m just not gonna play with you anymore, you’re a cheater.”
  • Cristiano: “Well that’s fine because I’m about to get an Xbox, and I’m not gonna let you play it anyway.”
  • Akaia: “I’m gonna get a computer and download Roblox and Minecraft and it’ll always be on the charger so you can’t ever use it, and mine will always be fully charged!”
  • Cristiano: “Well, I’m gonna use the TV to watch your favorite Christmas movie without you.”
  • Akaia: “You don’t even KNOW what my favorite Christmas movie is.”
  • Cristiano: “The Grinch, duh!”
  • Akaia: “No it is not. I don’t even like the Grinch.”
  • Cristiano: “Well then, fine, I’ll watch the Spy Ninjas, and I’ll have the whole TV so you can’t watch it with me.”

And right then I called them into my office. I’d been eavesdropping on the entire argument and finally the motive for the disagreement was uncovered: they wanted to tear each other down by selfishly withholding what the other loved.

Following Ginger Hubbard’s advice from her Christian disciplinary book Don’t Make me Count to Three!, I had the kids replay the Uno game and correctly address the cheating, but this time with the Word of God. They role played what SHOULD have happened instead of what ACTUALLY happened, and of course Cristiano repented.

But the deeper issue was with them verbally abusing one another. To tackle that, I applied Scripture from Matthew 22:39 “love thy neighbor as thyself”, and about how tongues spread evil like wildfire from James 3:6. I asked them questions of the heart like, “How do you think it made your brother feel when you told him you were going to keep the charger from him?” Akaia got to see the argument from his perspective, and it challenged her motives versus God’s law. When both kids realized that they were not loving selflessly, it was time to repent.

Apologies as children mirror repentance as an adult.

I have always had the kids follow this format: I’m sorry I (offense).

For example: “Akaia, I’m sorry I said I would hog the TV and not let you watch your favorite show. That was selfish of me.”

And I’ve taught the offended child to reply with: “I forgive you” instead of “It’s okay.”

What this format does is prepare the child for seeking forgiveness from God. When we pray for forgiveness, it sounds much the same: “Dear Lord, please forgive me for (sin).”

As long as the forgiveness is genuinely sought, faith in forgiveness is present, and the one repenting turns away from said sin, their transgression is erased from their slate.

But to ask only to turn around and commit the same sin is counterproductive. That’s like Cristiano walking away from our role playing and creating another argument over selfish gain.

Here’s how I explained it to Akaia when she committed the same offense three times in one day:

You’re learning the information, but not applying it to the situation.

She was able to tell me how she should have reacted when I told her to complete her tasks, but instead of saying, “Okay, Mom” and doing it, she threw a tantrum and disputed my orders.

Application of the Scripture is important. That is how they show they’re not only retaining the information mentally, but absorbing it into their hearts. And it’s by the heart that all behavior derives. If our heart is rooted in God, our behavior will reflect His glory and goodness.

So, the next time your child transgresses against God’s law, seize the opportunity to correct their behavior, but also teach them the importance of repentance.

Thanks for reading!

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