I was recently asked by a friend who has three small children, for my thoughts on how to create and provide an environment for the raising of children. The more specific request was how to create an environment in which they will have a firm foundation of gospel principals and doctrines, such that as they grow into teenage years and face the perils of that time of life, in this day and age, that they will have something to fall back on in times of difficulty or at least to return to, should they stray from those things they know to be true.
Below is the outline and references I prepared in response to the request.
Home & Family Planning
Building a foundation for children
Objective: Create an environment that invites the Lord’s Spirit into the home and reinforces gospel principles for children as they grow and mature.
Resources: I highly recommend the manual “A Parent’s Guide” from the church’s website: https://www.lds.org/manual/a-parents-guide?lang=eng It uses just 6 chapters that break down principles based on the ages of the children.
Excerpts from Ch 2 – Principles for Teaching Children:
- Teaching by example: The Savior testified about the highest of examples: “The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, there also doeth the Son likewise. For the Father loveth the Son, and sheweth him all things that himself doeth: and he will shew him greater works than these, that ye may marvel” (John 5:19–20). To the best of your ability, use the power of a worthy example.
- Be consistent: Consistency is more valuable than extreme behavior of any kind. We cannot expect to moderate the effects of extreme anger by extreme expressions of love. Strive constantly to keep negative emotions under control.
- Counsel your children: In the Grand Council in Heaven, we were counseled in the details of the eternal plan. We know that the words of our Heavenly Father and the Savior are truth spoken with kindness and infinite love. Earthly parents should follow this example. Fathers and mothers counsel (advise, teach) their children as they sit in council (ponder, listen, discuss) together.
- Pass Righteous Judgment: Husbands and wives are to share the duties of the family without giving passing or failing marks to each other. Both mothers and fathers must teach and give counsel to their children…: “There is no higher authority in matters relating to the family organization, and especially when that organization is presided over by one holding the higher Priesthood, than that of the father. … The patriarchal order is of divine origin and will continue throughout time and eternity. … This patriarchal order has its divine spirit and purpose, and those who disregard it under one pretext or another are out of harmony with the spirit of God’s laws as they are ordained for recognition in the home”
Excerpts from Ch 3 – Teaching infants and toddlers, from birth to approx 3yrs old:
- The period of life from birth to approximately three years of age is the time when a child becomes aware of gender—of being a boy or girl.
- Children are privileged to be males or females by divine creation. Help them feel that whichever gender they are, they are of great worth. Teach them that their gender influences their goals and that, depending upon their gender, their goals are to become effective fathers or mothers.
Excerpts from Ch 4 – Teaching children ages 4-11:
- The period of life between four and eleven years comes between two very intense stages of development—early growth and puberty. Speaking of these years, President David O. McKay said: “The home is the best place in the world to teach the child self-restraint, to give him happiness in self-control, and respect for the rights of others. I feel that the first contribution of the home to the happiness of the child is to impress him with the fact that there are bounds beyond which he cannot go with safety; second, to teach him to be considerate of the rights of others; third, to have him feel that home is a place where confidences and consolations are exchanged; and fourth, to have him cherish the thought that home is a haven of seclusion and rest from the worries and perplexities of life”
- Prepare your children for good intimate relationships later in life and to help you teach them about sexuality. The following ideas will help:
- Teach your children to take good care of their bodies.
- Teach your children how intimate relationships differ from other kinds of relationships.
- Teach your children to accept and understand that basic differences between men and women are complementary in nature. To understand their role identity, children need to understand that each gender completes the purpose of the other’s creation.
- Teach your children about sexuality as they become ready to learn.
- Protect your children from physical and sexual abuse.
Family Home Evening: https://www.lds.org/topics/family-home-evening?lang=eng
President Thomas S. Monson:“We cannot afford to neglect this heaven-inspired program. It can bring spiritual growth to each member of the family, helping him or her to withstand the temptations which are everywhere. The lessons learned in the home are those that last the longest.”
Thoughts on Home and Parenting – the ultimate goal is to model our parental behavior and the structure of our families after that which our Heavenly Father has shown us. In order to do that, perhaps the best place to start is to breakdown the various components we can identify:
- Home dedication – one foundational element is to officially have your home dedicated via the authority of the Priesthood to extend a permanent invitation to the Spirit. A member may dedicate his home as a sanctuary where his family can worship, find safety from the world, grow spiritually, and prepare for eternal family relationships.
- Music – there are very few things that will invite the Spirit of the Lord faster than hymns. Mormon tabernacle choir during scripture study, Sunday morning before church, and FHE is a great way to invite the Spirit. From the First Presidency: “Through music, man’s ability to express himself extends beyond the limits of the spoken language in both subtlety and power. Music can be used to exalt and inspire or to carry messages of degradation and destruction. It is therefore important that as Latter-day Saints we at all times apply the principles of the gospel and seek the guidance of the Spirit in selecting the music with which we surround ourselves.”
- Prayer – Children learn prayer by listening – just as the apostles in Jerusalem as well as the multitude in 3rd Nephi learned by listening to the Savior pray. They need to hear the earnestness in our voice, the reverence and our heartfelt desires – for them. President Henry B. Eyring said, “Parents should teach their children to pray. The child learns both from what the parents do and what they say. The child who sees a mother or a father pass through the trials of life with fervent prayer to God and then hears a sincere testimony that God answered in kindness will remember what he or she saw and heard. When trials come, that individual will be prepared.” As we “reason with the Lord” in prayer, we model three important things:
- Our relationship with our Heavenly Father
- Our children’s relationship to their Parents
- How to approach their Father in Heaven, who is also God Almighty whom we are teaching them to and how to worship.
- Scriptures – a love and appreciation for the scriptures – this is best viewed as a long, steady process. Daily reading and discussion (in very small and simple doses for little ones) is yet very important to them being able to mature and look back and recognize that such was always important in their family. President Ezra Taft Benson said, “When individual members and families immerse themselves in the scriptures regularly and consistently, … other areas of activity will automatically come. Testimonies will increase. Commitment will be strengthened. Families will be fortified. Personal revelation will flow.”
- Communication – Children need, above all else, to feel loved and safe. Perhaps the most critical ways, in which we as children “judge” our feelings of safety in our families, is by how safe we feel it is to talk to our parents on any topic at any time. We have to model this in our communications WITH the children, as well as BETWEEN mother and father. By teaching patience, loving tones, forgiving natures, and service- minded care for one another, they will in turn recognize home as a true refuge as they mature and venture out of the home and see the harsh differences found in many of their friends’ homes. Rosemary M. Wixom, General Primary President in April ’13 General Conference said, “…’it was a still voice of perfect mildness, as if it had been a whisper, and it did pierce even to the very soul.’ We can learn from that voice from heaven. It was not loud, scolding, or demeaning; it was a still voice of perfect mildness, giving firm direction while giving hope. How we speak to our children and the words we use can encourage and uplift them and strengthen their faith to stay on the path back to Heavenly Father. They come to this earth ready to listen.”
- Pictures – Without question, and without words, children will see where our hearts are focused. One way we keep our focus on eternal treasures is to fill our homes, and kids’ bedrooms, with pictures of the Savior and Temples. Cynthia Green, Sept ’10 Ensign: “I began seeking for ways that I could teach “The Living Christ” to our children. I recognized that they were young (our oldest was 11) and that this precious document was rather lengthy. But I had a desire, and after I prayed and thought about it often, the Spirit showed me how I could teach my family… I had long collected pictures cut out of old Church magazines. I went to the box where I kept them and started pulling out pictures that seemed to match the different phrases in “The Living Christ.”… With each picture, we discussed the gospel and life of Jesus Christ. Our family home evening lessons were filled with stories and lessons about the Savior. My husband taught some of the concepts in “The Living Christ,” bringing new insights…Family prayers became more meaningful because the children gave more thought to Him in whose name they were praying. The Spirit filled our home. We felt like Nephi when he wrote, “We talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ” (2 Nephi 25:26). Our home became a place of greater peace.”
- Service – M. Russell Ballard, April ’11 General Conference: “The single most important principle that should govern every home is to practice the Golden Rule—the Lord’s admonition that “all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them” (Matthew 7:12). I strongly believe this should be intentionally addressed in three areas:
- Family service – service toward siblings and other family members must be taught as a priority – meaning, when a family member has a need arise, we must model and include children in recognizing the value of that moment – the opportunity to show our love
- The poor or less privileged – we cannot successfully teach children the admonition of the Savior regarding the poor, if we do not consistently model and highlight those moments of opportunity.
- Callings – modeling service in the Lord’s kingdom by our example of magnifying our callings is critical.
- Thoughts – This is very critical, yet most difficult to address. When children are young they are sponges and absorbing all they witness in and from parents. But as they move beyond 8yrs old, Satan begins immediately to attack their minds. Thoughts are where the battle for souls begins. It is the first and most important line of defense. It becomes critical to model virtuous thoughts to young children, and to diligently and intentionally discuss and teach virtuous thinking as they begin to be subject to those temptations after baptism.
- The power to think is a gift from God, and we are free to choose how we use our power to think. The way we think greatly affects attitudes and behavior, as well as our standing after this life. Righteous thoughts lead to salvation; wicked thoughts lead to damnation.
- Proverbs 23:7: “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he:…”
- D&C 121:45: “…let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.”
- Atonement – Throughout our teaching of young children, the power and influence of the Atonement is the most important doctrine children can learn. They must learn throughout their young lives line upon line, precept upon precept. But as they do, when coupled with prayer and the spirit in the home, they will gain a personal witness of its absolute necessity and personal value in their lives daily. This is especially true for teenagers. Boyd K. Packer: “3 Nephi 17, when the Lord commanded that the little ones should be brought. As they brought them they placed them upon the ground. He commanded that the multitude should give way until all the little ones were there. Then he commanded that the multitude should kneel. He knelt among the little children and prayed. The account records: “… The eye hath never seen, neither hath the ear heard, before, so great and marvelous things as we saw and heard Jesus speak unto the Father; And no tongue can speak, neither can there be written by any man, neither can the hearts of men conceive so great and marvelous things as we both saw and heard Jesus speak. …” After the prayer, it is recorded that he wept. And then, “he took their little children, one by one, and blessed them, and prayed unto the Father for them. And when he had done this he wept again; “And he spake unto the multitude, and said unto them: Behold your little ones.” (3 Ne. 17:16–17, 21–23.)