“Your son bit a child today.” Those words stunned me to silence. “He what?” I finally croaked.

Jack’s teacher had called me about the incident, which occurred during a squabble over toys. She assured me that biting is normal for toddlers and that she’d told Jack it was wrong. But I couldn’t shake the anxiety and shame building in my chest.

While I drove to his day care, I pondered how to teach my son about sin and forgiveness. For parents and caretakers of little ones just learning words, it’s a daunting task. As children grow older and matters of morality become more complex, this issue continues to befuddle us. Luckily, we’re blessed with a Bible filled with stories to guide us.

I don’t remember what I said to Jack that day. But I do know that, in my haste to address the offending behavior, I forgot to say anything about a God who calls us to forgive. The next time he bit someone—yes, it happened again—I had a better response: “Jack, biting hurts, and God doesn’t want us to hurt our friends. We say, ‘Sorry’ when we hurt someone. OK, buddy?”

He nodded solemnly, and I hugged him. I wasn’t sure if my words had registered until the car ride home when Jack said, “I’m sorry, Mommy.” I teared up: “It’s OK, baby. I forgive you. God forgives you too.”

Although the biting has passed, recently I’ve been the one needing a behavioral adjustment. Parenting a strong-willed toddler stretches my limits—daily I stumble.

One morning Jack threw yet another tantrum. I got so mad I slammed his dishes on the counter and stomped off into the dining room like a preschooler. Tears welled in my eyes. I didn’t have to look back; I knew I’d scared him.

I took a deep breath and turned around. To my surprise, my son had followed me. I crouched down on his level, looked into his eyes and apologized. “It’s OK, Mommy,” he said, pulling me into a hug.

My 2-year-old knows more about forgiveness than I gave him credit for. Maybe he’s the one teaching me something about grace.

Practices

  • Lean on story: From Adam and Eve in the garden to the prodigal son and father, the Bible is rich with stories of sin and forgiveness. As you teach children about Christian ethics—a lifelong practice—draw on Scripture for support.
  • Lean into hugs: Whatever age your child is, don’t underestimate the power of a loving touch. A gentle, warm embrace teaches our children much about God’s abounding love when words fail.
  • Lean on prayer: Pray on your own for strength throughout difficult parenting seasons. Pray together with your child, giving thanks to God, who meets us in our wrongdoing and forgives us.
Erin Strybis
Strybis is a content editor for Living Lutheran and member of Resurrection Lutheran Church in Chicago. When she’s not writing, editing or chasing her toddler, she loves practicing yoga or getting lost in a good book. Find more of Erin’s stories on Instagram (@erinstry) and her blog, www.erinstry.com.

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