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Key Takeaways:

  • Self-forgiveness means accepting actions and behaviors of a mistake with a willingness to move forward.
  • Self-forgiveness is important for children because it allows for healing and compassion for the self.
  • Children can learn that mistakes can be forgiven and turn into positive experiences.

We are our own worst critics. This doesn’t apply only to adults but to children as well. Sometimes kids can be so harsh on themselves that they may even struggle with self-forgiveness. And when children don’t learn self-forgiveness, they can grow up to be unhappy adults. This is why self-forgiveness exercises are a must at an early age.

Here, you’ll learn everything you need to know about self-forgiveness, why it is important for children, and how to help them learn it.

Defining Self-Forgiveness

What exactly is self-forgiveness? According to one study, it is defined as a positive shift in one’s feelings, actions, and beliefs about the self after a “self-perceived transgression or wrongdoing committed by the self [*].”

Contrary to popular belief, self-forgiveness does not mean weakness nor does it absolve an individual of responsibility for what happened. Self-forgiveness means accepting the actions and behaviors that occurred and the willingness to move forward.

Forgiving oneself may mean letting go of the negative feelings that are attached to the event that went wrong. Most people, both adults and children alike, may find it difficult to forgive themselves because it can be challenging to move on without resolution. While it is easy to be critical of oneself, it may also be helpful to extend the same grace and compassion freely given to others to oneself too.

Importance of Self-Forgiveness for Children

You may be wondering why self-forgiveness is so important. One of the most important lessons that kids can take away from forgiving themselves is how to move forward in a healthy way despite encountering setbacks.

Children can benefit from learning about self-forgiveness because it facilitates their healing process, letting go of any anger, resentment, and disappointment accompanying unforgiveness. Hanging on to past mistakes makes it more difficult for kids to move forward, develop, and/ progress as they grow up.

Helping Kids Understand Self-Forgiveness

Helping children understand self-forgiveness can be a little challenging. Here are some ways to teach them why it is so important to be able to forgive oneself.

Children can be overly critical of their achievements and abilities. Have your kids acknowledge their efforts. Show them that the effort they put into their work is just as important as the outcome. Since kids may be scared or critical of making mistakes, tell them that such obstacles can be seen as opportunities to improve. Try replacing self-criticism with positive statements that recognize improvement and effort.

You can also share examples of mistakes that led to new discoveries. These could be famous people who came up with inventions because of their mistakes or accidents. You can also show your kids famous figures who went through several failed attempts before making a breakthrough.

Lastly, you can help your child understand self-forgiveness by sharing your own mistakes with them. Talk about mistakes you’ve made before and how you learned from them. But more importantly, let them know how you’ve forgiven yourself for making such mistakes, and show them that it’s possible to move forward.

Best Self-Forgiveness Exercises for Kids

Teaching self-forgiveness can be challenging and, sometimes, a bit heavy on emotions. By using these exercises, your kids will learn the concept more easily and how to practice it on their own.

1. Center yourself

Help your child find their center by asking them to focus on something safe. This can be their immediate environment, comfortable thoughts of their favorite things, or simply acknowledging their very own presence. This will allow them to develop feelings of connectedness and compassion, which they can then in turn use for self-forgiveness. This activity is suitable for children aged 7 and above.

2. Identify and forgive self-judgments

Another exercise that children can do is to identify and forgive self-judgments. These judgments are usually statements that we hold against ourselves and cause mental and emotional pain. A child might think, “I should have passed that test. I’m so stupid.”

Have your child write these judgments down. The next step is to say it out loud and say that you forgive yourself. Given the example above, a child might say, “I forgive myself for calling myself stupid. The truth is…” and then complete the sentence with something more forgiving. Children who are 7 and up can do this activity.

3. Journal about emotions

Children as young as 5 years old can start to journal their self-forgiveness journey. It helps to prepare prompts for them to follow. You can ask questions such as, “What is something you did that you feel bad about? Explain why it is important to forgive yourself.” Instruct your kids to be as expressive as they can be when they journal. This will help them reflect on any mistakes they made and come to accept that they can forgive themselves.

4. List down positive things from mistakes

Children may not find it easy to forgive themselves for making mistakes. With this exercise, you can help them find something positive from something negative. One way to phrase this is that after a mistake, a child can be wiser and know not what to repeat the next time. Help your child list down good things that came about, even after they’ve made a mistake. They’ll learn that the mistake probably wasn’t as bad as they thought it would be. This activity can be done for children ages 7 and up.

5. Self-soothing

Self-soothing is a form of emotional regulation that children can learn. Often, when a negative event happens that makes children unable to forgive themselves, they are dealing with very strong emotions. To deal with their self-transgression, help them realize that it’s what they can do after the transgression that counts. Self-soothing techniques such as deep breathing, moving around, and even taking a nap can reduce unforgiveness. This can be done by children aged 5 and up.

6. Emotional replacement

Have your kids identify feelings of unforgiveness and then gradually guide them towards positive and other-oriented emotions. You can ask them to recite something like this: “I have made a mistake, but I know that I am also human, and I am not perfect. I may not be happy with what happened, but I will work hard to make sure it does not happen again. I can forgive myself and be happy again.” This will work for children ages 5 and up.

7. Acknowledge efforts

Self-forgiveness can start by acknowledging one’s efforts. Despite the fact that your child made a mistake, they can also recognize that they tried. Doing so will help your child accept self-praise for what they did right instead of focusing on everything they did wrong. This activity is suitable for children ages 5 and up.

8. Forgiveness roleplay

Roleplaying is an excellent way to teach self-forgiveness. Have your kids stand in front of a mirror and pretend they are forgiving someone who has wronged them. Ask your child what they would say and how they would express their feelings. It’s an excellent way to get emotions out and begin the healing process. This can be done by kids aged 4 and above.

9. Empty chair technique

Another way to teach children how to be more forgiving of themselves is through the empty-chair method. Kids can imagine sitting across themselves in the empty chair. They can talk about what made them feel bad. Then, they can switch seats and respond to themselves in a way that another person would. By doing this, your child might be able to imagine forgiving themselves. This can be done by children aged 5 and up.

10. Letter of forgiveness

Have your child write themselves a letter of forgiveness. This is a great way for them to fully express their thoughts about their mistake. Similar to journaling, writing a letter to yourself can allow you to express all the negative emotions and start finding peace. This letter should help your child understand how they feel, which puts them in a better position to forgive themselves. This can be done by children aged 4 and up.

11. Mindfulness

Mindfulness is positively linked to forgiveness. It allows your child to view their mistake objectively in that forgiveness does not let them off the hook, but it also allows them not to be excessively harsh to themselves. With this increased awareness, your child may find it easier to forgive themselves for something they feel bad about. This is a great activity for children aged 6 and up.

12. Self-forgiveness worksheet

Children often like accomplishing worksheets, so you can have your child accomplish a self-forgiveness worksheet. This will show them the benefits of learning to forgive the self along with a few affirmations they can repeat to themselves when feeling overly self-critical. Such activities remind children of the concept of self-forgiveness and why it is important. Kids aged 5 and up.

13. Forgiveness balloons

This exercise is a fun way to have your child practice self-forgiveness. Fill a balloon with experiences that your child may have trouble forgiving written on pieces of paper. Explain that forgiveness acts like the thumbtack since it allows the anger and hurt they are keeping inside to be released. Afterward, tell them to pop the balloon and shout “I forgive myself!” They will likely feel better after this symbolic act of forgiveness. This can be done with kids aged 4 and above.

14. Mistakes make me a better person

One of the self-forgiveness activities that can really allow your child to fully accept their mistakes is “Mistakes make me a better person.” For this exercise, have your child make a list of their mistakes. Then, in another column have them think about how these mistakes have made them better people. It helps to give examples so they get the hang of it, such as “My mistake has taught me to think before I speak.” This activity is great for children aged 7 and up.

15. Self-forgiveness affirmations

Self-forgiveness affirmations can really help children reinforce the idea that forgiving yourself is okay. Here are some that you and your kids can use:<.p>

  • I forgive myself.
  • I am done beating myself up. What happened is in the past.
  • I am loved.
  • I am forgiven.
  • I did the best that I could. I know better now, so I will do better.
  • I release my past so that I can step into my future.
  • Self-forgiveness is a choice. I choose to forgive myself.
  • I am a good person.

Tips When Implementing Self-Forgiveness Exercises

When implementing self-forgiveness exercises, there are a few approaches you may want to try out to make them more effective.

Create a safe and supportive environment

Forgiving oneself is a very vulnerable act, so it is important to ensure that children are in a safe and supportive environment as they do this. Express that this is a safe space where they can share their honest thoughts. You can also reassure them that everybody cares about them. Having an emotion chart can help kids visually indicate how they feel during the process, allowing you to ensure that they feel safe all throughout.

Encourage open communication

Encouraging open communication is also key in letting your child forgive themselves. Make sure your child knows that you are there to talk about anything they want without fear of judgment or shame. They should feel comfortable coming to you about any concerns. When your child feels heard and understood, they’re more likely to admit their mistakes and set out on the path towards self-forgiveness.

Incorporate self-forgiveness exercises into daily routines

The exercises to forgive yourself listed above can be incorporated into your child’s daily routine. Try doing one of these activities during their morning routine before going off to school. You can also do them once your child is home or before bed. This ensures that they won’t forget the lesson and really understand that forgiving oneself is important.

The Bottom Line

Practicing self-forgiveness is challenging, especially for children. Sometimes, they can’t help but feel as though they’ve really screwed up and that it’s their fault. However, it is possible. Help your child focus on their emotions, identify their mistakes, and think about what they can learn from them.

Explain to them that self-forgiveness also takes time. It might not be easy at first, but with practice, it will become simpler to do. You can use tools such as character education posters on forgiveness to make the process easier. Allow them the time they need to work through the self-forgiveness process, and your children will understand they are not bad people just because they made a mistake.


  1. Pierro A, Pica G, Giannini A, et al. "Letting myself go forward past wrongs": How regulatory modes affect self-forgiveness. 12 March 2018.