Teaching Children the Power of Relationships and Service
June 2024

“Teaching Children the Power of Relationships and Service,” Liahona, June 2024.

Teaching Children the Power of Relationships and Service

Helping our children serve others in their family, in the Church, and in the community lays a foundation for future happiness by helping them experience real happiness now.

child cleaning window

I used to call our seven-year-old daughter my secret weapon. While I was serving as a bishop, I wanted to involve my children in my service. Bringing her with me to visit ward members not only allowed me to spend more time with her but also often opened doors that had been closed before. It’s hard to turn the bishop away when his adorable seven-year-old daughter is smiling at you. And as good as it was for our ward members, I believe it was also good for my little girl. Not only did she watch her dad love and serve others, but she learned at a young age that she could love and serve others as well—blessing her with joy at the same time.

We all want our children to thrive. We want them to live joyful lives filled with loving relationships. Yet the world we live in often makes this challenging. Many modern influences encourage our children to be more “me” focused. They often receive messages that happiness is found in focusing on what’s in it for them.

The best social science shows that prosocial behavior is a key to thriving. “Prosocial” is a fancy way of describing this teaching of the Savior: we find ourselves (and true happiness) by losing ourselves in loving service (see Matthew 10:39).

But there is an epidemic of loneliness in our society, from children to young adults to seniors. Many are more connected to others through social media than ever before. Yet, sadly, they are more disconnected from real-life relationships than ever before.

So how can we help our children learn that meaningful relationships and purposeful service will bring them greater joy?

Connect Service with Their Primary Identity

A critical task for parents is to help their children know who they are. Many today focus on identity in ways that separate and divide us. Instead of focusing on our identity as part of God’s family, many choose labels that discourage empathizing with and caring for those around us.

No wonder President Russell M. Nelson emphasizes how important it is to know and prioritize our most important identities:

Who are you?

“First and foremost, you are a child of God.

“Second, as a member of the Church, you are a child of the covenant. And third, you are a disciple of Jesus Christ.”

If we see ourselves as children of God first, we learn that each of us “has a divine nature and destiny.” That is, our fundamental nature is divine, and we have the potential to become like God. He tells us, “This is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39). Everything God does is to love and bless and exalt us. “He doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world” (2 Nephi 26:24).

You see, God knows how to do happy far better than we do. Is it any wonder that when we live a self-centered life, we go contrary to our eternal nature? We begin to sense a lack of purpose and happiness. Those who “have gone contrary to the nature of God … are in a state contrary to the nature of happiness” (Alma 41:11). Our eternal nature makes it impossible to find happiness in self-centered, unrighteous living (see Helaman 13:38).

By focusing on our true identity as children of God, we learn we are in reality brothers and sisters. Knowing our true identity helps us value service and relationships more. We come to realize that we are “in partnership with the Almighty in achieving the purpose of the eternal plan of salvation,” as Elder John A. Widtsoe taught. We “mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and … stand as witnesses of God at all times” (Mosiah 18:9).

boy showing a drawing to a girl

Helping Our Children Value Relationships and Service

As parents, we can help our children live happily by helping them value relationships. No one can thrive without positive relationships. God knew this, so His perfect plan put us in families, in wards or branches, and in communities. He knows we need this to learn to love and serve like He does. As Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles reminded us: “President Russell M. Nelson has asked us ‘to demonstrate greater civility, racial and ethnic harmony and mutual respect.’ This means loving each other and God and accepting everyone as brothers and sisters and truly being a Zion people.”

Think of how powerful it could be for our children to realize that God not only commands us to care for each other but also offers to join us in our efforts. God doesn’t leave us to do this service on our own. He promises to walk with us: “Thou shalt abide in me, and I in you; therefore walk with me” (Moses 6:34). The result of walking with God in loving service is life changing. Just read what Enoch could accomplish with God’s help and the centrality of relationships in creating Zion. It is a powerful example we can look to. (See Moses 6–7.)

Helping our children serve others in their family, in the Church, and in the community lays a foundation for future happiness by helping them experience real happiness now. We help them become more like God and thus experience the joy that a godlike life creates.

Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained that as we develop the character of Christ, we naturally turn outward in loving service to others. Satan knows this and would have us turn in and focus on ourselves. But we can help our children understand that loving service is far more effective at creating happiness than focusing on ourselves. The old proverb is still true: “Help thy brother’s boat across, and lo, thine own has reached the shore.”

How? Involve God and “Lift Where You Stand”

Helping our children learn to see others as brothers and sisters can start with our family prayers. For years, our family prayers have included pleas for God to bless our family. By “family,” we mean (and specifically pray for) our direct family (parents and children), our extended family, our ward family, and our neighborhood family. We wanted our children to see those God has surrounded us with as part of our family.

We then get off our knees and try to serve those we pray for. We involve our children in loving relationships with their aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents. For example, our children helped us as we cared for my angel mother for the last few years of her life. We most certainly didn’t do it perfectly, but our efforts made a difference.

In many ways, doing this is no more than “lifting where we stand,” to quote Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Often, difficult goals become doable as we start where we are and do what we can. Our own families, churches, and communities provide ample opportunities to help our children experience the joy of meaningful service.

young people walking while holding name cards for the temple

The Joy of Covenant Connection

You might have noticed how frequently our Church leaders refer to the importance of staying on the covenant path. The covenant path is more than a set of rules. The ordinances we receive and the covenants we make are God’s way of binding us to Him and each other in a way that helps us become like Him. This involves not only the first great commandment of loving God but also the second great commandment to love each other. Truly, as we lose ourselves in service, we and our children will find our true selves.


  1. See Jean M. Twenge, iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood (and What That Means for the Rest of Us) (2017).

  2. Russell M. Nelson, “Choices for Eternity” (worldwide devotional for young adults, May 15, 2022), Gospel Library.

  3. The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” Gospel Library.

  4. John A. Widtsoe, “The Worth of Souls,” Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine, Oct. 1934, 189.

  5. Quentin L. Cook, “Hearts Knit in Righteousness and Unity,” Liahona, Nov. 2020, 19.

  6. See David A. Bednar, “A Christlike Character,” Liahona, Oct. 2017, 50–53.

  7. In George I. Cannon, “A Father Speaks,” Ensign, Nov. 1986, 25.

  8. Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Lift Where You Stand,” Liahona, Nov. 2008, 54.