Family Resources
Session Four: Nurturing Children

“Session Four: Nurturing Children,” Strengthening the Family: Instructor’s Guide (2006), 32–42

“Session Four,” Strengthening the Family, 32–42

Session Four

Nurturing Children

“Take care of your little ones, welcome them into your homes and nurture and love them with all of your hearts.”

President Gordon B. Hinckley

Session Objectives

During this session, help parents:

  • Understand the importance of nurturing their children.

  • Be aware of different ways to nurture children.

  • Learn and apply the five-step nurturing process called “emotion coaching.”

The Need for Nurturing

President Gordon B. Hinckley encouraged parents to nurture their children: “Rear your children in love, in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Take care of your little ones, welcome them into your homes and nurture and love them with all of your hearts.”1

Nurturing involves responding to a child’s needs in a kind and loving way. It includes nourishing (physically, emotionally, and spiritually), loving, teaching, protecting, helping, supporting, and encouraging.

Parents play a crucial role in preparing their children to handle life’s many challenges. Children who are properly nurtured are better equipped to withstand troubling times. Nurturing their children is one of the most important things parents can do.

Unfortunately, busy mothers and fathers sometimes leave their children unattended. For many years, parents, educators, and church and community leaders have been concerned about the well-being of unsupervised children. Of even greater magnitude are problems associated with the breakdown of marriage. Mothers and fathers who struggle in painful relationships often have a diminished capacity to teach, soothe, and comfort their children. Children often feel the pain and loss associated with discord in marriage. Even when their parents do not divorce, children experience the consequences of the choices other people make and of living in a mortal, imperfect world. While some of these problems seem unavoidable, many can be prevented.

The scriptures provide a doctrinal foundation for nurturing children. The Psalmist explained the divine origin of parents and children: “Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High” (Psalm 82:6). Similarly, Paul taught that people “are the children of God” (Romans 8:16). God has entrusted His children to the care of their mortal parents. Parents have the sacred responsibility to help their children return to His presence. Paul counseled that parents should “bring [children] up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). The Lord gave similar instruction through the Prophet Joseph Smith: “I have commanded you to bring up your children in light and truth” (D&C 93:40).

Modern prophets reaffirm this scriptural truth. The First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve have solemnly proclaimed: “Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, to teach them to love and serve one another, to observe the commandments of God and to be law-abiding citizens wherever they live. Husbands and wives—mothers and fathers—will be held accountable before God for the discharge of these obligations.”2

Parents must never lose sight of their sacred responsibility to care for their children. President Gordon B. Hinckley counseled parents: “I hope you keep nurturing and loving your children. … Among all the assets you possess nothing is so precious as your children.”3

Ways to Nurture Children

Nurturing should take many forms, including:

  • Teaching children true doctrines of salvation. President Ezra Taft Benson emphasized that righteous fathers in the Book of Mormon taught their sons “‘the great plan of the Eternal God’—the Fall, rebirth, Atonement, Resurrection, Judgment, eternal life. (See Alma 34:9.) Enos said he knew his father was a just man, ‘for he taught me in his language, and also in the nurture and admonition of the Lord …’ (Enos 1:1).”4

  • Fostering spiritual development through scripture study, prayer, family home evening, and participation in Church activities.

  • Providing children with food, clothing, and shelter.

  • Speaking and listening to children in a Christlike manner.

  • Teaching appropriate behavior.

  • Imposing consequences for misbehavior.

  • Showing love, respect, and devotion.

  • Setting a proper example.

  • Teaching the value of work and providing work opportunities.

  • Teaching financial discipline and money management principles, including tithing and savings.

  • Providing fun and wholesome recreational activities.

One of the greatest opportunities for nurturing children comes when they experience troubles or face problems.

Nurturing Children During Troubled Times

When people face problems, sometimes they need help from others—a listening ear, a helping hand, a suggestion from a trusted friend. President Spencer W. Kimball explained that “it is usually through another person that [God] meets our needs.”5 When children are troubled, they particularly need help from their parents because their parents, more than anyone else, should have their best interests at heart. Parents should be their children’s allies, their friends in time of need. Parents have the opportunity and obligation to meet the needs of their children. How parents respond to the needs of their children often influences the children’s impressions of Heavenly Father and His willingness to love and help them.

Regarding the nurturing role of mothers, Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve suggested: “When her … children … return from a day marred by the world’s rude realities, a loving woman can say, ‘Come unto me. I will give you rest.’ Wherever she is can become a sanctified place, safe from the storms of life. Refuge is there because of her ability to nurture and to love unconditionally.”6 This statement applies to fathers as well.

In a 20-year study of 119 families, psychologist John Gottman of the University of Washington found that couples who had the greatest parenting success were able to help their children when their children needed help the most—when they were distressed and upset. The successful parents did five things—all nurturing tasks—that gave their children a much better foundation for life.

Gottman used the term “emotion coaching” to describe the activities of these parents. He found that the nurtured children learned to understand and handle their feelings better, to get along with others, and to solve problems in appropriate ways. They also had better physical health, higher academic scores, better relationships with friends, fewer behavioral problems, more positive feelings, and better emotional health.7 The five-step emotion-coaching process8 is described below.

Step 1: Be Aware of the Child’s Emotions

The successful parents in Gottman’s study were able to recognize and appropriately respond to the feelings of their children. Feelings are an integral, important part of life. Parents who recognize and accept their own feelings find it easier to recognize and accept their children’s feelings. Children who see their parents handle difficult feelings often learn to manage their own emotions.

Children usually provide clues when something bothers them. For instance, they may exhibit behavior problems, have a change in appetite, withdraw, perform poorly in school, or have a sad countenance.

Parents experience empathy when they recognize when a child is troubled and when they feel deep concern for him or her. The ability to empathize increases the effectiveness of parents in nurturing their children, as shown in the following case study.


Four-year-old Brandon entered the room to watch television with his mother and two siblings. Before sitting down, Brandon stood for a few moments in front of a chair, talking with Katie, his sister. During their conversation, Steve, an older brother, came into the room, moved the chair away from behind Brandon, and sat down. Not seeing this, Brandon proceeded to sit down but fell on the floor. The event was accidental but humorous. Everyone laughed except Brandon. Humiliated, he ran to his room, shut himself in the closet, and began weeping. Moments later his mother knocked softly and opened the door. She kneeled beside him, kissed him on the cheek, and said, “I know you’re embarrassed and hurt. I’m sorry for laughing. I love you.” She got up and left.

Years later, Brandon remembered the event as one of the significant moments of his childhood. Expressions of affection were rare in his family, but on this occasion he felt understood and loved at a time when he needed it most. He never forgot it.

Step 2: Recognize Emotion as an Opportunity for Closeness and Teaching

Sometimes parents avoid talking with a child when he or she is upset, perhaps fearing rejection or fearing they have somehow failed the child. Many parents hope their children’s troubling emotions will go away. Often, these emotions do not go away without some kind of help. Parents should look at their children’s troubling emotions as opportunities for bonding and growth. Helping soothe a child’s troubled feelings is one of the most satisfying things parents can do. Children feel understood and comforted when kind and loving parents acknowledge and understand their feelings.


It was a beautiful, warm Saturday morning. Oscar felt happy to be alive and looked forward to spending the day with his family. After weekend chores were done, he planned on taking his children for a picnic at the city park. The family enjoyed these outings because there were so many things to do. When Oscar suggested that the children finish their work as soon as possible, he noticed that Karl, his 11-year-old son, appeared angry. Karl looked at his father defiantly, turned around and walked off. Oscar felt surprised and concerned. Karl was a very conscientious child. Oscar asked if they could talk for a moment.


You seemed angry when I brought up the subject of chores. Is something troubling you?


(Curtly.) No. I’ll get them done. Don’t worry about it.


You sound upset. What’s the matter? (Active listening, inviting child to speak.)


What do you care? All you want is to get the work done, right? So I’ll get it done.


It’s true that I want the work done, but that’s not all I care about. I also care about your feelings and what is bothering you. You’re angry about something, and it sounds like it could be at me. I’d like to know what that’s all about. (Nondefensive listening, clarifying.)


I don’t like your dumb job chart—that’s what’s bugging me. How come my name comes up on the list to do the worst jobs more than everyone else’s? It’s not fair.


Your name doesn’t come up more. I made the chart so everyone does the same amount, except Meg and Annie. They’re too young for the outside work.


You’re wrong. I have to do more than the others.


You think I’m being purposely unfair to you. (Nondefensive listening.)




Show me what you mean. (Karl shows his father that his name is indeed on the job chart more than his two male siblings. Oscar is surprised and troubled.) You’re right. I made a mistake. I’m sorry. I’ll fix it right away. (Nondefensive listening—acknowledging an error.)

Oscar changed the chart and gave his son a holiday from chores the following week. Karl was no longer angry, and good feelings soon returned.

Step 3: Listen Empathically and Validate the Child’s Feelings

As a child discloses emotions, parents can restate their understanding of what was said, using the listening skills taught in session 3 and as illustrated in the conversation between Oscar and Karl. For example, the parent could say, “You’re feeling sad that your friend moved away.” When parents have questions about what their child says or feels, they can ask for clarification. However, probing questions may cause the child to become defensive and to stop talking. Simple observations often work better. For example, the parent might say, “I noticed that when you started talking about grades, you seemed to become tense.” The parent should then wait and allow the child to continue. Children are more likely to keep talking when they feel a sense of control over the conversation and have an uncritical, empathic listener.


Valerie noticed that her seven-year-old daughter, Andrea, appeared distressed upon arriving home from school. Valerie sought to understand the reason.


You look pretty unhappy. Why the frowning face and slumped shoulders?


I don’t want to go to school anymore.


You’re discouraged with school?


It’s not school; it’s Lynette and Ashley. They don’t like me, and they say mean things when they see me. I don’t know why. I haven’t done anything to them.


They’ve hurt your feelings, and you can’t understand why.


I know they didn’t like it when I became friends with Melanie. They want her all to themselves. Now they’re trying to get her not to be my friend anymore.


That would hurt. So you’re worried they’re going to break up your friendship with Melanie.


The thing that hurts the worst is that they don’t like me. Why should they care if I’m friends with Melanie? She can still play with them too. I haven’t done anything to them. (Starts to cry.)


(Holds her daughter in her arms for a moment without speaking, and then responds.) I would feel hurt too and sad. It’s always difficult when you feel rejected by someone.


What should I do?


That’s a good question. I’ll have to think about it. What do you think you could do?


I’ve already tried being nice to them. But they just laugh and pull faces at me. Maybe I just need to ignore them. Melanie told me to ignore them because they’re just being rude. She said she’s still my friend. But I hate it when somebody doesn’t like me.


It’s not easy, is it?


I want everyone to like me.


One thing that has helped me is to realize that I can’t please everyone. No matter who you are or what you do, there will always be someone who doesn’t like what you’re doing. The best thing is to try to please Heavenly Father by doing what you feel is right and what you think He would want you to do. If you do that, then it doesn’t matter so much whether other people like you.


Then I’ll keep on being nice to them, but I’ll try not to let it bother me so much when they’re mean to me.


Does that seem okay to you?


I think so. I know I feel better just being able to talk about it.


Well, let me know how things work out. I’ll be cheering for you.


Thanks, Mom.

In this example, Valerie helped her daughter feel better about a problem at school. While Andrea’s peers may continue to mistreat her, she will likely view the situation differently and not be hurt so deeply. She will feel the understanding and support of her mother. As she focuses on doing what she feels is right more than seeking approval from others, her feelings of self-worth are likely to increase.

Step 4: Help the Child Identify and Name Emotions

Sometimes parents mistakenly assume their children have words to describe what they feel inside. However, children do not always have a vocabulary for their emotions. Parents who provide words for their children help them transform vague, undefined, uncomfortable feelings into descriptive words such as “sad,” “angry,” “frustrated,” “afraid,” “worried,” “tense,” and so on. Children begin to feel a sense of control over their emotions as they learn words to describe them.

The best time to teach feeling words is when children experience emotion. The mother who sees her daughter crying because her friend is moving away can say, “You must feel really sad. You’ve been such close friends.” Hearing this said, the girl not only feels understood but now has a word that describes her experience.

Some studies show that identifying and naming emotions “can have a soothing effect on the nervous system, helping children to recover more quickly from upsetting incidents.”9 Children who lack a vocabulary of feeling words sometimes act out their feelings or find inappropriate words such as “shut up,” “leave me alone,” or worse, as shown in the following case study.


Todd’s parents brought him to the counselor after his most recent tantrum. They had hoped that their seven-year-old son would have outgrown his temper problem. However, the afternoon before, Todd had gone into a rage when his mother refused to take him to see his friend Brett. Todd screamed at the top of his voice, called his mother names, and kicked the wall. When the counselor asked Todd what he was feeling when his mother refused his request, he responded, “I don’t know.” When asked how he felt when doing the things he liked the most, he gave the same answer. Further questioning revealed that Todd had no vocabulary to express his emotions.

Todd’s story may have been different if he had been able to describe his feelings clearly and accurately. Helping a child learn names that describe feelings does not guarantee the child will behave more responsibly. However, children are less likely to act out their feelings when they are able to talk about them. Also, when children describe their feelings, parents can more easily comfort and soothe emotional wounds.

Step 5: Set Limits while Helping the Child Learn to Solve Problems

A child’s sense of control increases as parents help the child learn to deal with unpleasant feelings. Children must learn to deal with troubling thoughts and feelings in ways that are socially acceptable and emotionally healthy. Parents may need to set limits on inappropriate behavior while helping children work out problems.


Reuben, age 12, dropped a fly ball, which cost his team a win and entry in the championship playoffs. While he was walking off the field, one of his teammates shouted, “Way to go, klutz!” Already feeling horrible, Reuben ran to the youth, grabbed him around the neck and shoulders, and tried to throw him to the ground. Reuben’s father immediately bolted from the stands, pulled his son away, held him firmly, and said: “I know you’re angry and hurt, but we never hurt others. Let’s go home and talk about a better way to handle this.”

Rather than scold or preach, the father in this example can use the occasion to draw close to his son by listening empathically, validating Reuben’s feelings, and helping him explore other ways to handle difficult situations. The process will help Reuben feel understood, valued, and better able to manage his feelings.

If parents do not know the cause of a child’s problem, they should first ask questions to identify the cause so a solution can be found. Parents should ask questions such as “What is causing you to feel this way?” They should not allow the child to blame others when others are not to blame.

Once the cause has been identified, parents can ask, “What do you think will solve the problem?” They should listen carefully to the child’s answers. They can offer some tentative solutions to help the child consider other possibilities. Parents will need to take the lead with younger children. They may find it helpful to brainstorm solutions with older children. When parents and children brainstorm, they should not consider any solution too silly or inappropriate; criticism impedes the creative process, and parents and children can select appropriate solutions later. Parents should express confidence in the child’s ability to identify an appropriate solution. They should allow the child to take as much responsibility as possible, helping the child grow from dependence to self-reliance.

Sometimes it is helpful for a child to recall other times in life when he or she handled problems successfully. What did the child do at that time to cope? Can the same approach be taken with the current problem? Additional suggestions on problem solving can be found in session 7.

The next phase of step 5 is to evaluate the possible solutions. Parents may need to ask the child questions like these:10

  • “Is this solution fair?”

  • “Will it work?”

  • “Is it safe?”

  • “How are you likely to feel?”

  • “How will the solution affect others?”

  • “Will the solution help or hurt someone?”

  • “Does the solution show respect to everyone involved?”

Once they have explored the implications for each solution, the parents should help their child decide which solution is best. Parents should offer their opinions and guidance. Children need the benefit of their parents’ wisdom and experience. Parents can share their experiences in resolving similar problems. They can tell their children the choices they made and what they learned from them.

If a child seems determined to try a solution that parents believe will fail, they may want to allow that to happen if the outcome will not be harmful and will not burden the child with major problems. Some of the greatest lessons in life are learned through failure. Afterward, without saying, “I told you so,” parents should help the child work out another solution.

Parents can consider their relationship with their children to be like a bank account. Parents invest in the relationship by treating their children appropriately, respecting their boundaries, listening to their thoughts and feelings, coaching them through their problems, and disciplining with love. Each act of kindness, love, and respect is a deposit in the relationship account. When problem-solving efforts fail and a child seems determined to make a serious mistake, parents can make a withdrawal if the investments have been sufficient. A withdrawal involves asking the child to do something that is important to the parent. For example, if a son wants to spend a weekend with highly questionable friends, parents can ask him not to go and he is more likely to comply when the parents have made sufficient deposits in the account.

Guidelines for Becoming Involved in Children’s Problems

Parents sometimes wonder how involved they should become when a child has a problem. The following principles may help.

  • Parents have a responsibility to help their children. (See Mosiah 4:14–15; D&C 68:25; 93:40.)

  • Children who can discern good from evil are accountable for how they use their agency. (See 2 Nephi 2:27; Moroni 7:12–17; D&C 58:27–29.)

  • As children progress toward adulthood, they must learn how to take care of themselves. As adults, they are to be self-reliant, meeting their own “social, emotional, spiritual, physical, or economic” needs.11

An important part of parenting is to help children grow from dependency to self-reliance. Parents can help their children develop self-reliance by teaching them correct principles so children can learn to govern themselves righteously and responsibly. If parents take over their children’s problems, they unnecessarily burden themselves while depriving their sons and daughters of the opportunity to learn responsibility and self-reliance. As a general rule, children should solve their own problems, frustrations, boredom, and failures, with parents assisting as teachers and leaders as needed.

Sometimes parents will need to take the lead in problem solving. Parents should take the lead when the child is too young, inexperienced, or immature to handle a problem. Parents should also intervene when their child threatens them, takes or destroys property, or threatens others. In such cases, parents can help by confronting the misbehavior. The “I” statement format described in session 3 is a good way to discuss the misbehavior. (If both parents are present, they should use “we” instead of “I.”) Parents can also help their children take responsibility by giving choices (discussed in session 8) or by imposing consequences (discussed in session 9).

The Eternal Value of Nurturing

Children will respond favorably as parents nurture them with love, kindness, and sensitivity, applying the suggestions in this session as needed. The nurturing process should begin early and continue throughout each child’s life in ways that are appropriate for his or her needs.

President Gordon B. Hinckley stressed the need to work in harmony with Heavenly Father in loving and nurturing children: “Never forget that these little ones are the sons and daughters of God and that yours is a custodial relationship to them, that He was a parent before you were parents and that He has not relinquished His parental rights or interest in these His little ones.”12


  1. Salt Lake University 3rd Stake conference, Nov. 3, 1996; in Church News, Mar. 1, 1997, 2.

  2. “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” Ensign, Nov. 1995, 102.

  3. In Church News, Feb. 3, 1996, 2.

  4. In Conference Report, Oct. 1985, 47; or Ensign, Nov. 1985, 36.

  5. “Small Acts of Service,” Ensign, Dec. 1974, 5.

  6. In Conference Report, Oct. 1989, 27; or Ensign, Nov. 1989, 22.

  7. From Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child by John Gottman, Ph.D. with Joan DeClaire, Foreword by Daniel Goleman. Copyright © 1997 by John Gottman. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc., NY. Pages 16–17.

  8. Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child, 76–109.

  9. Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child, 100.

  10. See Gottman, Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child, 108.

  11. Spencer W. Kimball, in Conference Report, Oct. 1977, 124; or Ensign, Nov. 1977, 77.

  12. In Church News, Mar. 1, 1997, 2.

Feeling Words

  • Afraid

  • Alone

  • Amused

  • Angry

  • Anxious

  • Appreciative

  • Apprehensive

  • Astounded

  • Bad

  • Belittled

  • Betrayed

  • Bewildered

  • Blah

  • Boiling

  • Bored

  • Bothered

  • Brave

  • Bugged

  • Burdened

  • Calm

  • Captivated

  • Chagrined

  • Cheerful

  • Cold

  • Comfortable

  • Compassionate

  • Competent

  • Concerned

  • Confident

  • Confused

  • Content

  • Cool

  • Cowardly

  • Crushed

  • Curious

  • Defensive

  • Deflated

  • Degraded

  • Delighted

  • Dependent

  • Depressed

  • Deprived

  • Disappointed

  • Disarmed

  • Discontented

  • Discouraged

  • Disgusted

  • Distracted

  • Distressed

  • Distrusted

  • Disturbed

  • Doubtful

  • Drained

  • Dreadful

  • Dull

  • Dumb

  • Dumbfounded

  • Eager

  • Ecstatic

  • Efficient

  • Elated

  • Embarrassed

  • Empathetic

  • Empty

  • Enchanted

  • Encouraged

  • Energetic

  • Enraged

  • Enraptured

  • Enthusiastic

  • Envious

  • Exasperated

  • Excited

  • Exhausted

  • Exhilarated

  • Fascinated

  • Floored

  • Flustered

  • Fond

  • Foolish

  • Frantic

  • Friendly

  • Frightened

  • Frustrated

  • Furious

  • Glad

  • Good

  • Grateful

  • Grieved

  • Guilty

  • Hampered

  • Happy

  • Hateful

  • Heartbroken

  • Helpful

  • Helpless

  • Honored

  • Horrified

  • Hostile

  • Humble

  • Humiliated

  • Hungry

  • Hurried

  • Hurt

  • Impatient

  • Important

  • Imposed upon

  • Impressed

  • Inadequate

  • Incompetent

  • Indifferent

  • Inexperienced

  • Infantile

  • Infatuated

  • Infuriated

  • Inhibited

  • Insecure

  • Inspired

  • Interested

  • Irritated

  • Isolated

  • Jealous

  • Jovial

  • Joyous

  • Kindly

  • Lazy

  • Left out

  • Let down

  • Little

  • Lonely

  • Low

  • Lucky

  • Meek

  • Melancholy

  • Miserable

  • Misused

  • Modest

  • Mortified

  • Moved

  • Naive

  • Needed

  • Nervous

  • Opinionated

  • Optimistic

  • Ornery

  • Overcome

  • Overjoyed

  • Overwhelmed

  • Pained

  • Panicky

  • Paralyzed

  • Peaceful

  • Peeved

  • Perplexed

  • Persecuted

  • Perturbed

  • Pessimistic

  • Pitied

  • Plagued

  • Prepared

  • Protective

  • Proud

  • Provoked

  • Puzzled

  • Rattled

  • Rejected

  • Relaxed

  • Relieved

  • Remorseful

  • Repentant

  • Resentful

  • Restless

  • Revengeful

  • Reverent

  • Ridiculous

  • Riled

  • Ruffled

  • Sad

  • Satisfied

  • Scared

  • Seething

  • Self-conscious

  • Selfish

  • Self-pitying

  • Sensitive

  • Sentimental

  • Serene

  • Serious

  • Shaken up

  • Shocked

  • Sick

  • Silly

  • Slow

  • Smart

  • Solemn

  • Sore

  • Sorrowful

  • Sorry

  • So-so

  • Staggered

  • Startled

  • Strange

  • Struck

  • Stumped

  • Stupid

  • Submissive

  • Superior

  • Susceptible

  • Sympathetic

  • Tense

  • Ticked off

  • Tired

  • Tolerant

  • Trusted

  • Trustworthy

  • Tuckered out

  • Unappreciated

  • Uncomfortable

  • Uneasy

  • Unhappy

  • Unimportant

  • Unkind

  • Unloved

  • Unprepared

  • Unsure

  • Unworthy

  • Upset

  • Uptight

  • Used

  • Useless

  • Vain

  • Vindictive

  • Warm

  • Weary

  • Weird

  • Wild

  • Wonderful

  • Worried

  • Worthless

  • Worthy