Becoming Our Children’s Greatest Teachers
September 1999

“Becoming Our Children’s Greatest Teachers,” Ensign, Sept. 1999, 15

Teaching at Home and Church

Becoming Our Children’s Greatest Teachers

In our divinely given role as teachers to our children, we as parents have much more support than we realize—including our Father’s abundant help.

The charge is clear: “Inasmuch as parents have children in Zion, or in any of her stakes which are organized, that teach them not to understand the doctrine of repentance, faith in Christ the Son of the living God, and of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the hands, when eight years old, the sin be upon the heads of the parents.

“For this shall be a law unto the inhabitants of Zion, or in any of her stakes which are organized. …

“And they shall also teach their children to pray, and to walk uprightly before the Lord” (D&C 68:25–26, 28).

There can be little doubt that teaching children the gospel is the responsibility first of parents. For some this thought can be sobering, almost frightening. But of course we want our children to have a love of the gospel and to enjoy the blessings of a testimony. We read in 3 John 1:4: “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.” Even though the Apostle was writing specifically to a friend he loved, it is surely the hope and desire of every righteous parent to have his or her children “walk in truth” and forsake not the teachings of the home.

Yet how, parents may ask, can we hope to instruct children in the gospel when we are untrained as teachers? Our children have fine seminary instructors and auxiliary teachers. How can we hope to offer more in the way of gospel learning?

The fact is that as good as outside teachers may be, everything they do is still supplementary to the teaching that occurs in the home. We make a mistake when we underestimate the importance of daily examples and experiences provided by family life. We may also underestimate our own ability to teach gospel principles, forgetting that this ability is magnified when we seek the direction of the Holy Ghost and organize our efforts to take advantage of all the tools Heavenly Father has given us.

Home: A Sacred Place

The home is the basic classroom of life and of the Church. We read in the Bible Dictionary: “Only the home can compare with the temple in sacredness” (“Temple,” 781). What is taught in the home makes a major contribution toward this sacredness. President Harold B. Lee said that the greatest work we will ever do is within the walls of our own home (see Conference Report, Apr. 1973, 130; or Ensign, July 1973, 98).

I remember a day when I was only three years old and my family was living in a humble two-room home with a dirt roof. My father was in bed, delirious with scarlet fever. There was a heavy storm outside, and my mother, four-year-old brother, and I were putting out pans, cans, and buckets to catch the water dripping through the roof. My little sister slept in a cot near my father.

When the pans, cans, and buckets were in place, Mother called my brother and me to her side and had us kneel in prayer. I am sure she had helped me pray many times before, but on this occasion it was different. I remember her helping me with the words of the prayer. They went something like this: “Heavenly Father, we really need Thy help. We need our dad to be made better. Please bless him to get well. We need our roof to stop leaking so he doesn’t get wet and cold and become more ill. We love Thee, Heavenly Father, and we always want to serve Thee.”

There must have been more said in that prayer, but those words of faith from my dear mother in the tender childhood years of my life have never left my memory. I learned the principle of prayer and its value in the home through the example and teachings of my faithful, obedient parents.

The prophet Nephi laid out the foundation and purpose of parental teaching: “For we labor diligently … to persuade our children … to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God. …

“And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, … that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins” (2 Ne. 25:23, 26).

The opportunities to teach our children of Christ and His gospel seem nearly unlimited as we think in terms of both example and precept.

The Power of Role Models

It has been said that the three greatest teachers are example, example, and example. Every parent can best teach gospel truths to children by being a model of Christlike living. Our children will learn more by observing how we live—how we act and what we do—than by any other way we may choose to teach them.

We teach our children to serve well by serving well ourselves. We teach them to forgive by forgiving. We teach love and kindness by being loving and kind, gratitude and appreciation by being grateful and appreciative. When we make and keep gospel covenants and receive the ordinances of salvation, our children will see and be influenced to seek the blessings of this kind of obedience. We teach them principles of honesty and integrity by being honest, truthful, trustworthy, and dependable. We teach them the virtues of responsibility and accountability by being doers, not doubters, by accepting opportunities to participate and to serve, by making our word our bond. When we exemplify love and kindness, are of good cheer, and engage in lifting others and bringing them joy, peace, and happiness, our children will learn by our example and our behavior to do the same. What we want them to be, we must be. If we want them to bear the image of Christ in their countenances, we must strive to wear it ourselves.

My paternal grandmother was a widow from age 64 until her death at 101. She had a simple, small home with little of the material goods of life, yet she was the epitome of happiness, joy, and faith, with a contagious attitude of love, kindness, and hope. Although she had her share of health difficulties and other challenges of life, she was an eternal optimist. Whenever any of her family of 10 children, 69 grandchildren, 210 great-grandchildren, and 49 great-great-grandchildren visited her to bring a measure of love and encouragement, we always received more love and encouragement than we were able to give. She was richly blessed with the things that truly matter, and she shared them best by her noble example. She truly had the image of Christ in her countenance. Grandmother received only eight years of formal education, yet she was a most profound and influential teacher.

On Our Best Behavior

Wise parents take care not to be models of negative traits or behavior. We need to remember that hate destroys the soul that harbors it, envy sours the character of one who is dominated by it, criticism and harsh judgment destroy friendships, and bigotry diminishes our world of opportunity. We can be models of good behavior in the face of these temptations. We can choose to teach our children the better way by avoiding grudge-keeping, fault-finding, nagging, sarcasm, contention, murmuring, ridicule, and antagonism.

When we forgive and forget, we give our children the opportunity to experience the miracle of forgiveness. During my years as an Aaronic Priesthood holder, a prominent individual in the stake was found guilty of illegal business practices and sent to prison. Stake members made many critical comments. My kind and forgiving father, who was on the stake high council at the time, brought us together as a family and taught us that there are no perfect people for the Lord to call, but there are many good and wonderful people whom He calls to strengthen the lives of others and also to be strengthened through service. Dad said that we would always be blessed for sustaining those whom the Lord has called to serve and that we ought to focus on their strengths and not on their weaknesses. My father’s forgiving and loving feelings toward our former leader taught me a powerful lesson which has been a guiding principle in my life.

The Power of Words and Precepts

Speak kindly—say that which edifies. “A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger” (Prov. 15:1). When we as parents avoid words that demean, tear down, disappoint, or discourage, we teach our children to avoid damaging habits. When we choose and use words that build, praise, compliment, uplift, and encourage, our children will be motivated to do the same. They will thus be learning Christlike traits, and this behavior will help them feel good about themselves.

We sing, “Let us oft speak kind words to each other at home or where’er we may be” (Hymns, no. 232). Hymns teach many gospel sermons and invite the Holy Ghost to bear witness of the doctrines and truths being taught, as well as bring comfort and cheer. We can use them in the home to teach our children and to reinforce lessons taught by other means. Music is so powerful an influence that songs learned in childhood stay in the mind and heart for a lifetime; as individuals or as a family, we may find it worthwhile at times to ponder the words of some of the hymns and Primary songs.

When opportunities come to us as parents to have conversations with our children, we teach best by inviting them to express their thoughts and by being positive. To foster an effective learning environment, we need to listen to their points of view, their concerns, and their questions. A good rule is to apply the principle: “Ask, don’t tell.” Ask questions that begin with “How do you feel about … ?” “What is your understanding of … ?” “Why do you think … ?” or “What do you believe is the meaning of … ?”

Perhaps one of your teenage children may ask to go with friends to a hard rock concert. If you say, “I do not want you to go because the music and conduct are not in keeping with gospel standards,” it could cause the child to feel defensive or put down. However, you might say, “Thanks for asking, but for some reason I feel uneasy about your going. What do you think may be causing me to feel this way?” Then your child has an opportunity to discuss gospel principles and applications without feeling personally judged. In raising children, I have learned that when parents give answers and statements of doctrine or principles without asking for input from our children, we remove the opportunity for them to discover gospel truths for themselves. We can best engage our children in gospel conversations that foster learning by sharing feelings and understandings with each other.

The Lessons of Life

Often the greatest teaching moments are in less formal settings such as discussions at mealtimes, conversations as we work together, or talk during travel. Prayer times can become effective teaching moments as we counsel together with the Lord.

We also need to teach by word and precept in more formal settings such as family home evening, parent-child one-on-ones, family councils, and family scripture reading sessions. When we as parents earnestly seek to teach our children the divine truths of the gospel and testify to them of God’s goodness, love, and blessings upon us, the Holy Ghost will instill convictions of those things in their hearts.

Teaching opportunities often come at unexpected times or in unusual circumstances. A few years ago we gave our two sons 10-speed bicycles for Christmas. Then, trying to be a good father, I took one of our old bicycles to ride along with the boys as they learned to operate their new 10-speeds. We were doing fine until my second son, a 10-year-old, looked down at the sprockets as he tried to change gears. He ran directly into the back of a parked car. Because I was a bit ahead of him, I only heard the crash. I immediately went back to help.

My heart ached as I looked at him with his mouth bleeding and a front tooth broken off; his face had hit the trunk of the car. In addition, he appeared for a moment to have broken his leg, something that had already happened to him six years earlier. As I gathered him in my arms, he looked up into my face and said, “Dad, how come I always have to learn things the hard way?” Now there was a teaching moment!

We should teach our children from the experiences of life—ours and theirs. That is the way the Savior taught. When we relate the gospel to daily living, it takes on real meaning to our children.

We need to read, study, and learn continually. Then the Holy Ghost can help us teach what we are learning. And we must never forget that we can ask for divine help. Our children are God’s children too. Through our faith and prayers, He can and will bless them when we cannot be with them and in times when we do not know where they are but He does.

Every parent has the right to seek the Lord’s help in teaching children the truths of the gospel. Our Father has entrusted these children to us, and He will help us. He will also inspire others to help in the classrooms of the Church, but the home is where the most important teaching and learning should take place. We can all be grateful for wise and good teachers who taught our parents, for those who now teach us, and those who help us teach our children. But they are helpers. We as parents must each assume the responsibility of teaching our children the truths of the gospel by example and by precept. As we do so, we can find assurance in this promise: “All thy children shall be taught of the Lord; and great shall be the peace of thy children” (Isa. 54:13).

Helps for Teaching in the Home

The scriptures are fundamental to any effort to teach the gospel in the home. In them, the Lord has provided all the basics of the gospel, along with examples of teaching as He taught. We can use His methods as models; we can emulate His use of parables and down-to-earth stories (the 10 virgins, Matt. 25:1–13; the Good Samaritan, Luke 10:25–37), of object lessons (the tribute coin, Matt. 22:15–22), and of personalized messages (to the Samaritan woman at the well, John 4:4–26).

Yet as rich as they are, the scriptures are not the only Church-approved resources for teaching the gospel to our families. We can be grateful that the Lord has inspired His servants to provide additional materials to help us learn and grow—a wide variety of supplementary resources for teaching gospel principles in the home as well as in Church classrooms. These resources are grounded in and fully correlated with ancient and latter-day scripture.

Among them are the Church magazines—the Ensign, Friend, New Era, and Liahona—distributed monthly in international areas where the Church is well established and at other intervals in areas where the Church is less established in the language or where the gospel has arrived relatively recently. Articles in the magazines are tailored to the lives of members today. All of them, from our Church leaders’ messages to members’ testimonies to short tips on preparedness, can be adapted to teaching in the home. Some of the articles for adults include suggestions at the end of the articles for how they might be used in teaching, such as “Ideas for Home Teachers,” “Gospel Topics,” or “Let’s Talk about It.”

Beyond Church magazines, there are many Church-produced books, manuals, and other printed resources that can be valuable for teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ in the home. Following are some of them (with their stock numbers in parentheses) that may be checked out from the meetinghouse resources if available, purchased at Church distribution centers, or ordered from the Church Materials Catalog, available through the clerk, bishop, or branch president.

  • “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” (35602), issued by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, teaches and reminds us of the Lord’s eternal design and earthly purpose for the family.

  • Family Home Evening Resource Book (31106) offers sample lessons as well as suggestions for activities and for improving family home evenings.

  • A Parent’s Guide (31125) provides information on the development of children and offers help with teaching about intimacy and the importance of families.

  • Family Guidebook (31180) is a basic pamphlet outlining the purpose and organization of the family; it is particularly useful in areas where most members are new to the Church or where they may be geographically isolated.

  • Gospel Principles (31110), the manual for the Gospel Principles class in Sunday School, offers a basic overview of doctrines and principles of the gospel plan and a section with 35 hymns and 10 children’s songs; it is a great resource for families.

  • Teaching—No Greater Call (33043), the basic manual for the Church’s teacher improvement courses, is helpful to anyone wishing to improve teaching ability.

  • Teaching Guidebook (34595) is used in place of Teaching—No Greater Call in the Church’s developing areas where the full curriculum is not available, but it is also an important resource available in established areas, providing assistance in improving teaching, especially in the home.

  • Our Heritage: A Brief History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (35448) is helpful for those new to the Church or those living in areas outside the United States and Canada.

  • A Member’s Guide to Temple and Family History Work (34697) describes how members may prepare to receive temple ordinances for themselves or provide them for ancestors.

  • For the Strength of Youth (34285) summarizes standards of conduct for Latter-day Saint youth but is a useful guide for adult members as well.

  • Gospel Art Picture Kit (34730) offers 160 colored pictures depicting scriptural events.

  • Old Testament Stories (31118), New Testament Stories (31119), Book of Mormon Stories (35666), and Doctrine and Covenants Stories (31122) all offer historical stories from the time periods and areas covered by these works, as well as maps and glossaries.

  • Hymns (31243) and Children’s Songbook (35395) encourage family members to sing in the home the same spiritually illuminating hymns and songs sung in our meetings.

  • Truth Restored (33411) is an overview of the restoration of the gospel and history of the Church.

  • The Holy Temple (30959) is designed to help priesthood leaders or family heads prepare members to receive temple ordinances. It is taken from a larger work by the same name, written by President Boyd K. Packer, now Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

  • Temples of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (31138) offers illustrated articles about the history, purpose, and use of ancient and modern temples.

  • Church History in the Fulness of Times (32502) is a Church Educational System manual for institute classes, covering the period of time from the Prophet Joseph Smith to modern times.

  • The Latter-day Saint Woman, Part A and Part B (31113, 31114) each contain 35 lessons to help women become more righteous and better prepared to bless the lives of their families and others.

There are many additional pictures, audiocassettes, videocassettes, compact discs, and other Church-produced resources available. Information on ordering any of these materials and on their availability in specific languages is found in the Church Materials Catalog.

Inset, far left: Photo by Jed Clark; Left: Photo by Craig Dimond; posed by models.

Illustrated by Keith Larson

Photos by Welden C. Andersen; posed by models