“10 Tips for Teaching Repentance,” Ensign, February 2019
Repentance sometimes sounds scary or confusing to children and teens. Here are some tips for teaching repentance in a loving, empowering way.
Keep it simple. You can teach your children that “when we sin, we turn away from God,” but “when we repent, we turn back toward God.”1 We can turn back toward God by recognizing our wrongs, making things right, and trying hard to do better.
Focus on the positive. No matter what, “repentance is always positive.”2 It’s not a punishment for bad behavior; it’s an opportunity to try again and draw closer to God. Encourage your children to think about what they’re doing right and how they can do more of that.
Emphasize the everyday. Repentance is for little sins as much as for big ones. Daily repentance means frequent correction, like a ship maintaining a course. Help your children recognize the small ways they can improve each day.
Make room for mistakes. Help your children understand that mistakes can be a part of learning. Allow them to deal with the consequences of their choices and help them figure out how to make things right again. Teach them to turn to God for help.
Be an example. Admit when you make mistakes. Be humble enough to apologize to and in front of your children. Let them see how you are striving to make things better, and share your testimony of how the Savior has helped you change.
Personalize it. As you teach your children the principles of repentance,3 be aware that the repentance process will not look the same for every person every time. It’s not a series of boxes to be checked off; it’s an ongoing process of growth. It’s about the desires of our hearts and how we strive to align ourselves with the Savior. We can know we have fully repented when we feel peace, joy, and forgiveness.
Take the long view. It’s easy to get discouraged when you make the same poor choices multiple times. Teach your children that as long as they keep repenting, God will keep forgiving them (see Moroni 6:8). Explain that trying is what really matters. It’s through our striving and putting off the natural man (see Mosiah 3:19) that we become more like God.
Distinguish between guilt and shame. “Godly sorrow” is a requirement for repentance (see 2 Corinthians 7:9–10). But if your child feels unworthy or hopeless even after repenting, shame may be the culprit.4 Remind them that Heavenly Father always loves them and that “if we sin, we are less worthy, but we are never worth less!”5 If necessary, consider meeting with your bishop or a professional counselor.
Understand the Savior’s Atonement. Teach your children that Jesus Christ atoned not only for our sins but for all of our suffering (see Alma 7:11–12). Assure your children that they “are not to blame for the harmful behavior of others.”6 Victims of abuse are completely innocent; help them turn to the Savior for peace and healing.
Continually point to the Savior. Teach your children that the Savior understands what they are struggling with and can help them overcome it. Testify of Him frequently in your home. Encourage your children to pray, serve, study the scriptures, and do other things that will help them know Him better so they will naturally seek His help in overcoming their weaknesses.