3 steps to helping kids grasp God’s grace when they’ve messed up

June 5, 2024 • 3 min

She proudly led me into the hall, demanding I cover my eyes first. When she said “open them!” my jaw dropped.

The surprise was a drawing done in pen and marker…first on paper, then all over the wall. 

“You drew on the wall?!” I asked, flummoxed by her surprise and trying to remember where her Mom told me the cleaning supplies were when I started nannying. 

Her face falling, she shouted a sorry, covered her mouth, and fled to her room in tears.

A few hours later, I’d scrubbed the wall clean. She’d refused to leave her bed, where’d she been curled up crying. Every time I tried to talk to her, it was clear she hadn’t thought through her artistic plan ahead of time. She’d gotten carried away. Now she was wracked with guilt over her mess.

Trying to convince her she was forgiven and there was grace enough to cover her mistake was much harder than cleaning the wall. That’s often the case! 

If you know a child prone to getting stuck in guilt, here are some steps for helping them grasp grace.

Start With Acknowledging the Need for Grace

Shame came with the fall in the garden, and we all feel it keenly. Throughout God’s Word, guilt and sin are associated with hiding, darkness, and covering up. Grace brings what’s wrong into the light so it can be seen for what it is: NOT too much for God.

When a child messes up, it doesn’t help them when we skirt around their mistake – willful or not. We should not fuel the lie that we need to cover up sin and its effects, or at least make them seem prettier and tidier.

Use plain, simple language to explain to or agree with a child that they’ve messed up. Call it what it is – whether that’s lying, ignoring, breaking a rule, etc. 

Remind Them of God’s Grace

Once wrongdoing has been acknowledged, it’s time to help kids see that their mistakes don’t need to loom over them. Shine the light of God’s grace on them!

Remind them of the gospel, especially the truth that Jesus took on all our sin so that when we’ve trusted in him, we can be sure we’re forgiven and loved by God. We don’t have to hide or fear or stay stuck in our mess. We are free because of Jesus!

Invite Them to Respond to God’s Grace

With the good news of God’s grace fresh in their mind, help your child think through what it means in the moment to be defined by God’s grace and not by their mistakes. Ask them if they’d like to respond to God’s grace by:

  • Praying to thank God for his forgiveness and grace
  • Asking God to help them make different choices in the future
  • Thinking of what they could have done differently so they have a plan for next time
  • Helping to make right what’s gone wrong (i.e. cleaning up a mess, apologizing to a sibling, etc.)
  • Looking up a Bible verse or Bible story that demonstrates how thorough God’s grace and forgiveness are. Peter’s story of denying Jesus three times and being forgiven and called three times is one of my favorites for this – I tell it throughout the story Abigail and the Big Start Over!

For example…

In the instance of my young friend’s artistic mishap, I might have implemented this by saying:

“I see you’re feeling bad about drawing on the wall. That makes sense! We aren’t supposed to color on the wall.

But guess what? Do you remember how we’ve talked about Jesus taking away all our sins so that we can be forgiven by God and be free? You are forgiven for drawing on the wall! God’s grace is big enough for that mistake.

And guess what else? You are free to make a different choice next time you want to make art! Let’s think about that. If you run out of paper when you’re drawing, what’s a good solution?”

Sometimes this conversation won’t be so linear or simple, but the three steps are helpful principles to keep in mind as you help a child grappling with guilt.

If you find they continually need this framework repeated, try rephrasing the points as questions in a conversation outside of a time they feel guilty. You might get clarity on what’s contributing to their profound guilt and then better be able to help them embrace God’s grace. 


This concept is played out in the chapter book Abigail and the Big Start Over, a realistic story about God’s grace written for kids by Bethany McIlrath.


Consider a few extra resources:

About the Author:

Bethany McIlrath

Bethany McIlrath is the author of the Abigail Series. She loves to get lost in a book. When she's not reading stories, she's usually writing them or dreaming about them as she comes up with real-life creative adventures for friends, her husband, and a doorbell-like dog named Indy. Serving in children's ministry is also one of her greatest joys.

More from Bethany →