A few months ago I was asked to speak in the adult session of our stake conference on the topic “How I Teach My Children in the Savior’s Way.”
Since that time, I’ve been asked on occasion if I would share my remarks here.
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord:
And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.
And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart:
And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.
These verses of scripture, found in Deuteronomy 6:4-7
, have resonated with me as I have prayerfully sought to prepare my thoughts for this evening.
Immediately after I was asked to speak on how I teach my children in the Savior’s way, I felt completely humbled and utterly inadequate. While this is a topic that is incredibly close to my heart, it’s also something that sends me to my knees constantly. And if you’ve been “blessed” to sit near our family during sacrament meeting on Sunday, then you too are well aware that we have neither perfect children nor perfect parents in our household.
Just a little background on our family: Bryson and I have been married for nearly 15 years—14 of which we have lived right here in our home in Payson. After struggling to conceive in the early years of our marriage, we were eventually blessed with five children within an 8-year period. More than one of these children arrived with incredibly strong-willed, intense, and stubborn personalities. And I have to confess, I’ve sometimes wondered if the reason Heavenly Father held off sending them to our family was so Bryson and I had a few extra years of wisdom under our belts before tackling parenthood with such headstrong spirits.
I know that today’s children have been saved for this time for a great purpose, and that the personality characteristics that can be particularly difficult to deal with right now will help them stand firm and valiant in the years to come. My personal experience has been that often the children that come to our families with great spiritual gifts can also be some of the most difficult to teach and parent. As a result, I find myself continually pouring out my heart, my concerns, and my weaknesses to my Father in Heaven, asking Him to walk with me as I seek to parent as the Savior would. I am so far from perfect as a mother, but as I seek the blessings of the Atonement—both the redeeming as well as the enabling aspects—in my life, I have found a strength beyond my own that helps me to keep moving forward, even when my knees seem feeble and my hands hang down. The enabling power of the Atonement is real. Of that I can testify with absolute knowledge and certainty.
Parenting is not for the faint hearted, especially in this day and age. In the 2015 October general conference, Elder Bradley D. Foster stated
,“Brothers and sisters, we are engaged in a battle with the world. In the past, the world competed for our children’s energy and time. Today, it fights for their identity and mind. Many loud and prominent voices are trying to define who our children are and what they should believe. We cannot let society give our family a makeover in the image of the world. We must win this battle. Everything depends on it.”
I have personally given much thought to the battle plans and strategies that our family needs to implement in our own home. My husband and I strive to have the Spirit with us as we seek answers and personal revelation. And although much is obviously specific to our own situation and circumstance, there are some principles we have learned that I believe to be universal. With the Spirit’s help, I’d like to share some of them with you this evening.
First of all, we ourselves must be spiritually prepared. Are we leading by example the virtues of a gospel-centered life? Do we immerse ourselves in daily prayer and scripture study? Are we familiar with the voice of the Spirit in our own lives? Or do we allow ourselves to become trapped by all the distractions of this digital age?
As we strive to be seekers of the Spirit, we will understand with greater clarity how to teach His children with greater love and effectiveness. We will also gain a deeper Christ-like love for them.
Second, we must strive to cultivate an atmosphere in our homes that is conducive to the Lord’s Spirit. It’s well-known in the education field that children learn foreign languages best in immersion programs, where they are continually surrounded by the language throughout the day and are expected to use it themselves. In this atmosphere, children learn to listen and communicate fluently. Three of my children are involved in a Spanish dual immersion program at their school, and we have experienced this process first hand. Although I studied Spanish for six years in junior high and high school, even traveling throughout Spain as a youth, my ten-year-old daughter speaks and understands the language much better than I do. It is an amazing thing to witness as they learn a second language with such depth and profound comprehension.
Similarly, children will become fluent in the language of the Holy Ghost best in a setting where they are able to be surrounded by its influence—a spiritual immersion program, if you will. Are we willing to take an honest look at our homes and eliminate those things or actions that offend the Spirit? Do we make time for FHE, family prayer, and family councils? Are we wise when it comes to managing our family’s extracurricular activities so that the most important things are not neglected? Do we discipline and counsel our children with sensitivity and kindness as instructed in Doctrine & Covenants Section 121
? And when it becomes necessary to “reprove with sharpness,” do we show an increase of love afterward? And when we make mistakes—as we all do—do we seek to repent quickly and restore that Spirit?
Third, we must teach our children by the Spirit. Just as the Spirit speaks to each of God’s children individually, in the way they best understand, we must also seek to follow the Spirit’s promptings as we teach each of our children at their own level in the way they learn best.
The Prophet Joseph Smith
taught that the Spirit communicates with us in our own language in the ways we best understand. The Holy Ghost adapts His language to be understood by all, even little children. He stated, “Our Heavenly Father is always available to us. He adapts to our level of understanding. ‘If He comes to a little child, He will adapt himself to the language and capacity of a little child’ (Joseph Smith, in History of the Church, 3:392).”
It’s also useful to understand our children’s learning styles. Some children are visual learners, meaning they learn best by what they see. These learners often love art and can be avid readers. Some are auditory learners. They process information most effectively when they hear it. They often love music. Some children are kinesthetic learners. They learn best when there is motion or activity involved, and may experience difficulties in school because sitting still is a struggle. Often service projects or other activities can provide meaningful spiritual experiences for them.
Do we seek the Spirit not only in knowing what to teach, but also the method that would be most effective for our children’s individual needs?
Fourth, do we engage in ‘intentional parenting?’ In the April 2015 general conference, President Russell M. Nelson stated
that “No other work transcends that of righteous, intentional parenting!” I have given a lot of thought to that phrase, intentional parenting
. What does it mean to be intentional
? As I have pondered on it, I have come to understand that it is not enough to merely go through the motions of the gospel. We must be personally engaged with it, free from distractions and full of purpose. When we teach our children are we fully present with them?
As the Savior went about His ministry upon the earth, He took the time to be fully present with those He came into contact with. Whether it was Peter, Nicodemus, a leper, or an adulterous woman, He was intentional and present in His words and actions. And one of the great miracles of His Atonement to me is not just that it was universal in its reach, but that it was so deeply personal and individual for each and every one of us. Do we allow ourselves to get distracted and fall into a pattern of going through the motions with our children? Or do we stop, listen, and engage fully—teaching with full intention in the present moment? It has been my experience that when we are present with our children, we have a greater capacity to recognize spiritual promptings, identify spontaneous teaching moments, and recall personal stories and experiences that can have a great impact upon the lives of our family members.
Fifth, do we actively engage our children in the learning process? Often, asking inspired questions can have greater impact on our children than sitting them down for a well-intentioned lecture. Repeatedly throughout the scriptures, we see the Lord teaching His children through inspired questions—all the way back to the Garden of Eden.
Consider the question posed by Heavenly Father to Adam…: “Where art thou?” (Genesis 3:9
). The Father knew where Adam was hiding, but He nonetheless asked the question. Why? A wise and loving Father enabled His child to act in the learning process and not merely be acted upon. There was no one-way lecture to a disobedient child, as perhaps many of us might be inclined to deliver. Rather, the Father helped Adam as a learner to act as an agent and appropriately exercise his agency.
It’s also been my experience that when my children are misbehaving or acting out, asking inspired questions often corrects the behavior much more effectively than scolding out of frustration.
We can further engage them in the learning process by inviting them to act, counseling together as to what action steps could be taken toward a greater understanding, and then following up with them, allowing them a chance to return and report back.
To close, I’d like to share some encouraging remarks by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland from the recent worldwide training broadcast, “Teaching in the Savior’s Way.” He stated
We all want to teach like Jesus taught. His instruction was simple and direct and powerful. He often told stories or parables that people could readily understand. Without exception, His lessons were spiritually motivating. He loved His audience, and the ones who had ears to hear or eyes to see loved Him. That kind of spiritual instruction, with that kind of loving relationship between teacher and learner is what we hope we can find existing in every home…
Now, some of you out there feel overwhelmed already, doubting not only your ability to teach like the Savior taught, but doubting your ability to teach at all! Put those thoughts away right now. You can do this! President Monson has said throughout his ministry, “Whom the Lord calls, the Lord qualifies.” He will help you. That’s who He is! That’s what He does…
You can do this. And if you still feel inadequate, then take comfort in a verse I have needed all my life: The promise that the gospel will be proclaimed by the weak and the simple unto the ends of the world. Now if we feel a little weak and a little simple, that’s alright. Because so too have the others who’ve gone before us—and think what they have done.
God will hear your prayers, and He will reward your humble effort. He always has and He always will.
I know parenting can be tremendously challenging. There are days when it can be easy to be overcome with discouragement as we see our children exercising their agency in ways that can be spiritually destructive.
But it is my testimony that we are never alone in this journey. That through the good times and the darkest of days, our Savior will walk with us. He has promised that He will not leave us comfortless. He will come to each of us in our time of need. He loves each of His children with a fierce, incomprehensible love. And His work and glory is to help each of us return home to Him, to our eternal family as children of God.