Family Resources
Session One: Parenting Principles and Practices

“Session One: Parenting Principles and Practices,” Strengthening the Family: Instructor’s Guide (2006), xii–10

“Session One,” Strengthening the Family, xii–10

Session One

Parenting Principles and Practices

“Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, … to teach them to love and serve one another.”

“The Family: A Proclamation To The World”

Session Objectives

During this session, help parents:

  • Understand their sacred role in rearing their children.

  • Understand gospel principles that form a foundation for parenting practices.

  • Identify societal views of children that have misguided parents and damaged children.

  • Understand how covenants can help parents save their children.

  • Be aware of doctrinal teachings on measuring success in parenting.

Guarding Against Family Breakdown

The need for loving, effective parents has never been greater. In 1997, President Gordon B. Hinckley observed that families are “falling apart all over the world. The old ties that bound together father and mother and children are breaking everywhere. … Hearts are broken; children weep.”1

Satan strikes at the family because it is vital to the Creator’s plan for the happiness and salvation of His children. The Lord has prescribed His remedy for Satan’s attacks: “I have commanded you to bring up your children in light and truth” (D&C 93:40), for “light and truth forsake that evil one” (D&C 93:37).

President Hinckley stressed the urgent need to strengthen, love, and protect children: “My plea—and I wish I were more eloquent in voicing it—is a plea to save the children. Too many of them walk with pain and fear, in loneliness and despair. Children need sunlight. They need happiness. They need love and nurture. They need kindness and refreshment and affection. Every home, regardless of the cost of the house, can provide an environment of love which will be an environment of salvation.”2

Happy, harmonious homes are a blessing to parents and to children; such homes are also preparatory for eternal life. Indeed, “eternal life is family life with a loving Father in Heaven and with our progenitors and our posterity.”3

Societal Attitudes About Parenting

Much parental behavior is influenced by societal views that children are (1) innately evil; (2) innately good; (3) like a blank slate; (4) molded by biological factors; or (5) able to interpret their environment, shape their own behavior, and alter or abandon parental values.

  • Innately Evil. Some people have thought that children are innately evil because of the fall of Adam and Eve. Consequently, they maintain, children require harsh punishment to “beat the devil” out of them. Parents who hold this view rarely show affection to their children and may even consider kindness to be detrimental. Perhaps variations of this thinking exist in the minds of some parents who abuse their children.4

  • Innately Good. Another view is that children are innately good and well-motivated, “only to be corruptible by a corrupted adult society.” French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau suggested that if children were “left to themselves, they would achieve their greatest potential.” Consequently, parents try to allow them to learn from experience and follow their own inclinations. Humanistic psychologists, such as Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow, have held similar views.5

  • Blank Slate. John Locke promoted the view that children are much like a blank slate, neither evil nor good. Children, he thought, were mostly shaped by their experiences. Behavioral psychologists, such as John B. Watson and B. F. Skinner, have tended to agree, asserting that parents can condition or mold a child into any kind of person they want by controlling and altering the environment.6

  • Biological. This perspective, which gained prominence during the 20th century, includes evolutionary, dispositional, and biological theories. These theories suggest that children are more than a blank slate at birth and that early differences between individuals can be explained to some degree by biological factors. Many versions of this perspective are deterministic and tend to diminish the role of individual agency.

  • Constructivist. This perspective, championed by Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget and others, focuses on the individual’s ability to interpret—or even to construct—his or her environment. It recognizes agency more than other views and suggests that individuals can modify the effect of biological and environmental influences. But it cannot explain where this ability comes from, nor does it help a parent or a child know what is right or wrong. Proponents of this theory believe that children apply their own interpretation to what they are taught. Consequently, they often suggest that children may naturally and unavoidably abandon or alter the values taught by parents and others.

Most or all of these viewpoints contain some element of truth. For example, although children are pure and innocent, humans have a fallen nature, and environment, biology, and personal agency all influence our lives on earth. However, without the knowledge that comes from God, each of these views—or a combination of them—falls short of the truth.

Most important, none of these perspectives offers stable guidelines for moral behavior. Parents who view their children as innately evil will look for and see the worst in them, even misreading and condemning innocent acts. These parents may feel entitled to engage in any kind of parenting behavior, however damaging, because of their sense of moral superiority. The blank slate view not only discounts the agency of the child by suggesting that he or she is purely a product of the environment, it also avoids offering moral direction. Parents who view their children as innately good may feel little need to guide and discipline them, accepting any behavior that arises naturally from the self. Having this perspective, parents may condone and embrace behaviors that were once considered deviant or inappropriate.

Parents who believe that biology dictates behavior may foster a climate in which children feel no responsibility for their actions. Parents with a constructivist view recognize their children’s ability to make conscious choices, but they can provide no measure for right and wrong other than what is acceptable to society. Furthermore, when children abandon parental values in favor of peer values, they are often seen as reasoning at a higher level. With this view, any group of peers may define its own standards of right and wrong.

The Light of Gospel Truth

Through revelation, Latter-day Saints know the divine nature of mankind and the manner in which parents are to rear their children. In the proclamation on the family, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve declared:

“All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. …

“… ‘Children are an heritage of the Lord’ (Psalms 127:3). 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. … Husbands and wives—mothers and fathers—will be held accountable before God for the discharge of these obligations.”7

The scriptures indicate that children are pure and innocent because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. The prophet Mormon taught that “little children are whole, for they are not capable of committing sin; wherefore the curse of Adam is taken from them” (Moroni 8:8). However, “when they begin to grow up, sin conceiveth in their hearts” (Moses 6:55). President David O. McKay observed: “Man has a dual nature—one, related to the earthly or animal life; the other, the spiritual life, akin to the divine. Man’s body is but the tabernacle in which his spirit dwells.”8 Parents have the responsibility to recognize the divine in their children and to teach them to live righteously and choose good (see D&C 68:25).

Each spirit child of God is unique. Each spirit enters a mortal body, also unique in its genetic composition. Consequently, each child exhibits individual interests, talents, personality, desires, and abilities. Parents, siblings, and others also influence each developing child.

Scientific research suggests that biological characteristics affect “children’s dispositions and temperaments,” including “tendencies toward … shyness, sociability, impulsiveness … , activity level … , [and] emotionality.” Furthermore, children to some degree “select, modify, and even create their own environments according to their biological predispositions.”9 For example, a sociable child will seek opportunities to interact with peers, whereas a shy child may avoid social gatherings; both children reinforce patterns of behavior that may extend into adulthood.

While environmental and biological factors may influence child development, each child of God has agency. Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles observed: “Of course our genes, circumstances, and environments matter very much, and they shape us significantly. Yet there remains an inner zone in which we are sovereign unless we abdicate. In this zone lies the essence of our individuality and our personal accountability.”10

Differences in children may require a variety of responses in parents. Spirited children may provoke parental concerns, added rules, and increased supervision. Shy children may need less supervision or attention. Furthermore, children respond to similar parenting styles according to their unique perceptions. For example, an anxious child may see a parental command as threatening. The child may dutifully comply with the request but feel helpless and fearful. Another child may see the same command as a challenge and react with defiance or noncompliance.

Parents must be wise in how they respond to their children. Brigham Young encouraged parents to “study their [children’s] dispositions and their temperaments, and deal with them accordingly.”11

The Authoritative Approach to Parenting

Just as children have differing dispositions and temperaments, parents have differing ways of rearing their children. Some methods work better than others. Parents often find it helpful to prayerfully study different parenting approaches, determining what works best and what seems less effective.

Three Approaches to Parenting

Parenting approaches often fall into one of these categories: authoritarian, permissive, and authoritative.12

Authoritarian. “Authoritarian parents attempt to shape, control, and evaluate the behavior and attitudes of the child in accordance with a set standard of conduct.” In their attempts to guide the behavior of a child, these parents do not invite the child to participate in a discussion of rules and expectations, “believing that children should accept parents’ word for what is right.” These parents value firm control of their children’s behavior, and they often show little warmth. They rarely encourage their children to express their feelings or point of view, particularly in disciplinary situations.13

Permissive. Permissive parents usually show warmth and love toward their children but offer little guidance or direction. They “attempt to behave in a nonpunitive, accepting, and affirmative manner. … They present themselves as resources to be used as their children wish, not as active agents responsible for shaping or altering their children’s ongoing or future behavior. They allow their children to regulate their own activities as much as possible, avoid the exercise of control, and do not insist that their children obey externally defined standards.” These parents “avoid the use of overt power” but may attempt to regulate their children’s behavior in less obvious ways. They avoid confrontations.14

Authoritative. Authoritative parents show the same high expectations for their children as authoritarian parents, but they also show a high degree of warmth and responsiveness. They are loving and supportive. As they guide their children, they “encourage verbal give and take and share with their children the reasoning behind their policies.” These parents “exert firm control at points of parent-child divergence but do not hem in their children with restrictions. Authoritative parents are demanding in that they guide their children’s activities firmly and consistently and require them to contribute to family functioning by helping with household tasks. They willingly confront their children in order to obtain conformity, state their values clearly, and expect their children to respect their norms.” In her studies over several decades, psychologist Diana Baumrind found that children raised in authoritative homes were most likely to be socially confident, friendly, self-disciplined, cooperative, and achievement oriented.15

The parenting principles taught in this course most closely resemble those of authoritative parenting. This approach is most consistent with the scriptures and teachings from Church leaders.

According to this standard, parents teach and guide their children by persuasion, patience, and love (see D&C 121:41–44). They are willing to discuss their decisions with their children and explain their reasons for those decisions. They are also willing to reprove their children when guided by the Spirit and give them the guidance they need.

Principles for Successful Parenting

The First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve gave nine principles to guide fathers and mothers in their parenting responsibilities: “Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities.”16 Parents can teach and apply these principles in many ways.

  • Faith. Parents should teach children to have faith in Jesus Christ and use their growing faith in gospel principles to govern their personal lives (see Matthew 17:20; Hebrews 11:6; 3 Nephi 18:20; D&C 68:25).

  • Prayer. Children should learn to pray individually and as a family. Children can learn early about the power of prayer (see Enos 1:1–5; Mosiah 27:8–14; Alma 34:17–27; 37:37; 3 Nephi 18:21).

  • Repentance. Parents should acknowledge, confess, and forsake sins so that they can enjoy the guiding influence of the Holy Ghost. They can help their children understand and apply these principles in their lives (see Alma 34:33; 3 Nephi 9:22; Moroni 10:32–33; D&C 6:9; 58:42–43).

  • Forgiveness. Parents can be an example of forgiveness by forgiving themselves, their spouses, and their children for shortcomings (see Matthew 6:14–15; Ephesians 4:32; Mosiah 26:29–31; D&C 64:8–10).

  • Respect. Family members are to learn to respect one another. Parents and children can learn to treat each other with courtesy and tenderness, holding each other in highest esteem (see Mark 9:42; D&C 121:41–46). Parents should try to eliminate critical thoughts and words about each other and about their children.

  • Love. Parents are to love their children in the manner described by Paul, Alma, and Mormon—with patience, kindness, gentleness, unselfishness, and humility (see 1 Corinthians 13; Alma 7:23–24; Moroni 7:45–48).

  • Compassion. Parents can show compassion for each other and for their children. They should feel sorrow for the adversities experienced by family members and seek to understand and support family members during their difficult times (see Ruth 1:11–17; Zechariah 7:8–10; Luke 15:11–32).

  • Work. Family work gives children opportunities to learn to appreciate work and to feel the satisfaction of accomplishment (see D&C 42:42; 58:27–28), especially as parents and children work together. Work should be tailored to the age and abilities of children to foster feelings of success and confidence.

  • Wholesome Recreation. Families are strengthened and revitalized when family members join in wholesome, enjoyable activities.

The greatest of these principles is love (see Matthew 22:36–40; 1 Corinthians 13:13; Moroni 7:46). The most important thing parents can do for their children is to love them in a Christlike manner. When children feel and know they are loved, they are more likely to listen to their parents’ teachings, follow their example, and accept their discipline. Love should motivate and guide all parental behavior.

The Gospel Standard for Parental Influence

Through the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Lord gave counsel that sets the standard for parental influence:

“No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;

“By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile—

“Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy;

“That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death” (D&C 121:41–44).

According to this standard, parents teach and guide their children by persuasion, patience, and love. They are willing to discuss their decisions with their children and explain their reasons for those decisions. They give their children the guidance they need and reprove them when guided by the Spirit. When parents have reproved their children, they show an increase of love so their children will know of their love.

The Power of Covenants

Parents are not alone in their efforts to save their children. Heavenly Father has provided sacred covenants by which His children can receive blessings. When couples enter into the covenant of eternal marriage and abide by the terms of that covenant, the Father promises them eternal life (see D&C 132:20). Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and Joseph Fielding Smith all taught that added blessings come to children whose parents are sealed in the temple marriage covenant, helping them return to their Heavenly Father.17 Brigham Young said that children of this marriage covenant become “legal heirs to the Kingdom and to all its blessings and promises.”18

Sometimes children go astray. Elder Orson F. Whitney of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles urged parents not to give up on these wayward children.

“You parents of the willful and the wayward! Don’t give them up. Don’t cast them off. They are not utterly lost. The Shepherd will find his sheep. They were his before they were yours—long before he entrusted them to your care; and you cannot begin to love them as he loves them. They have but strayed in ignorance from the Path of Right, and God is merciful to ignorance. Only the fulness of knowledge brings the fulness of accountability. Our Heavenly Father is far more merciful, infinitely more charitable, than even the best of his servants, and the Everlasting Gospel is mightier in power to save than our narrow finite minds can comprehend.

“The Prophet Joseph Smith declared—and he never taught more comforting doctrine—that the eternal sealings of faithful parents and the divine promises made to them for valiant service in the Cause of Truth, would save not only themselves, but likewise their posterity. Though some of the sheep may wander, the eye of the Shepherd is upon them, and sooner or later they will feel … Divine Providence reaching out after them and drawing them back to the fold. Either in this life or the life to come, they will return. They will have to pay their debt to justice; they will suffer for their sins; and may tread a thorny path; but if it leads them at last, like the penitent Prodigal, to a loving and forgiving father’s heart and home, the painful experience will not have been in vain. Pray for your careless and disobedient children; hold on to them with your faith. Hope on, trust on, till you see the salvation of God.”19

President James E. Faust of the First Presidency offered this clarification of Elder Whitney’s teaching:

“A principle in this statement that is often overlooked is that they [disobedient children] must fully repent and ‘suffer for their sins’ and ‘pay their debt to justice.’ …

“… The sealing power of faithful parents will claim wayward children only on the condition of their repentance and Christ’s Atonement. Repentant wayward children will enjoy salvation and all the blessings that go with it, but exaltation is much more. It must be fully earned. The question as to who will be exalted must be left to the Lord in His mercy.

“There are very few whose rebellion and evil deeds are so great that they have ‘sinned away the power to repent’ (Alonzo A. Hinckley, in Conference Report, Oct. 1919, 161). That judgment must also be left up to the Lord. He tells us, ‘I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men’ (D&C 64:10).”20

In the same address, President Faust suggested that mortals may not understand “how enduring the sealing cords of righteous parents are to their children.” He taught that there may be “more helpful sources at work that we know” to draw wayward children back to their Father in Heaven, including the influence of beloved ancestors on the other side of the veil.21 Prophetic statements indicate that the power to save children is greatest when parents make and keep covenant promises.

Measuring Parenting Success

Some parents look for indicators of how well they are doing. President Howard W. Hunter gave this direction: “A successful parent is one who has loved, one who has sacrificed, and one who has cared for, taught, and ministered to the needs of a child. If you have done all of these and your child is still wayward or troublesome or worldly, it could well be that you are, nevertheless, a successful parent. Perhaps there are children who have come into the world that would challenge any set of parents under any set of circumstances. Likewise, perhaps there are others who would bless the lives of, and be a joy to, almost any father or mother.”22

President Faust taught that good parents are “those who have lovingly, prayerfully, and earnestly tried to teach their children by example and precept ‘to pray, and to walk uprightly before the Lord’ (D&C 68:28). This is true even though some of their children are disobedient or worldly. … Successful parents are those who have sacrificed and struggled to do the best they can in their own family circumstances.”23

Parents who have successfully reared their children should be sensitive to those who may believe they have failed. Parents who feel successful should be grateful, not boastful in a way that would cause other parents greater sorrow. President Faust counseled:

“It is very unfair and unkind to judge conscientious and faithful parents because some of their children rebel or stray from the teachings and love of their parents. Fortunate are the couples who have children and grandchildren who bring them comfort and satisfaction. We should be considerate of those worthy, righteous parents who struggle and suffer with disobedient children.

“One of my friends used to say, ‘If you have never had any problems with your children, just wait awhile.’ ”24

With respect to parents who believe they are failing, President Spencer W. Kimball counseled, “Where there are challenges [with family members], you fail only if you fail to keep trying!”25 Parents should not condemn themselves when problems arise and mistakes are made but try to learn from them, striving to do better. Parenthood is an ongoing responsibility, even when children leave home and rear children of their own. Parents should never give up on their children. They should continue to love them, pray for them, and wisely use every opportunity to assist them.

President Faust offered this comfort: “To those brokenhearted parents who have been righteous, diligent, and prayerful in the teaching of their disobedient children, we say to you, the Good Shepherd is watching over them. God knows and understands your deep sorrow. There is hope. Take comfort in the words of Jeremiah: ‘Thy work shall be rewarded,’ and your children can ‘come again from the land of the enemy’ (Jeremiah 31:16).”26


  1. In Conference Report, Oct. 1997, 94; or Ensign, Nov. 1997, 69.

  2. In Conference Report, Oct. 1994, 74–75; or Ensign, Nov. 1994, 54.

  3. Dallin H. Oaks, in Conference Report, Apr. 1995, 115; or Ensign, May 1995, 86–87.

  4. See Craig Hart and others, “Proclamation-Based Principles of Parenting and Supportive Scholarship,” in Strengthening Our Families: An In-Depth Look at the Proclamation on the Family, ed. David C. Dollahite (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 2000), 101.

  5. See “Proclamation-Based Principles,” 103.

  6. See “Proclamation-Based Principles,” 102.

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

  8. In Conference Report, Apr. 1967, 6; or Improvement Era, June 1967, 24–25.

  9. “Proclamation-Based Principles,” 104–5.

  10. In Conference Report, Oct. 1996, 26; or Ensign, Nov. 1996, 21.

  11. Discourses of Brigham Young, sel. John A. Widtsoe (Salt Lake City, Deseret Book, 1954), 207.

  12. See Diana Baumrind, “Effects of Authoritative Parental Control on Child Behavior,” in Child Development, Dec. 1966, 889–92.

  13. Diana Baumrind, “Rearing Competent Children,” in Child Development Today and Tomorrow, ed. William Damon (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1989), 353.

  14. Baumrind, “Rearing Competent Children,” 354, 356.

  15. Baumrind, “Rearing Competent Children,” 353–54.

  16. “The Family: A Proclamation,” Ensign, Nov. 1995, 102.

  17. See Conference Report, Apr. 1929, 110; Discourses of Brigham Young, 208; Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols. (Salt Lake City: Publishers Press, 1954–56), 2:90.

  18. Discourses of Brigham Young, 195.

  19. In Conference Report, Apr. 1929, 110.

  20. In Conference Report, Apr. 2003, 68; or Ensign, May 2003, 62.

  21. In Conference Report, Apr. 2003, 68.

  22. In Conference Report, Oct. 1983, 94; or Ensign, Nov. 1983, 65.

  23. In Conference Report, Apr. 2003, 67.

  24. In Conference Report, Apr. 2003, 69.

  25. In Conference Report, Oct. 1980, 5; or Ensign, Nov. 1980, 5.

  26. In Conference Report, Apr. 2003, 70.

How Covenants Guide Behavior

Church members often make covenants with the Lord. The following list indicates what Church members commit to do when they make covenants with the Lord. Those who keep these covenants receive blessings, including the companionship of the Holy Ghost, to strengthen them in daily life.

The potential impact of these covenants is tremendous. If parents just abide by the baptismal covenant alone, they will be able to resolve many problems that arise in their families.


(See 2 Nephi 31:17–21; Mosiah 18:8–10; D&C 20:37; Articles of Faith 1:4.)

  • Take upon oneself the name of Jesus Christ.

  • Stand as a witness for Jesus Christ.

  • Always keep the commandments.

  • Bear the burdens of others; mourn with those who mourn; comfort those who need comfort.

  • Show a willingness to serve God throughout life.

  • Manifest repentance of sins.


(See 3 Nephi 18:28-29; Moroni 4, 5; D&C 20:75-79; 27:2; 46:4.)

  • Renew baptismal covenants.

  • Recommit to take upon oneself the name of Christ, always remember Him, and keep His commandments.

Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood

(See Jacob 1:19; D&C 84:33–44; 107:31.)

  • Magnify callings by fulfilling priesthood responsibilities faithfully.

  • Teach the word of God and labor diligently to advance the Lord’s purposes.

  • Be obedient; obtain a knowledge of the gospel and live according to that knowledge.

  • Serve others and work to bless their lives.

Temple Endowment

“The ordinances of the endowment embody certain obligations on the part of the individual, such as covenant and promise to observe the law of strict virtue and chastity, to be charitable, benevolent, tolerant and pure; to devote both talent and material means to the spread of truth and the uplifting of the race; to maintain devotion to the cause of truth; and to seek in every way to contribute to the great preparation that the earth may be made ready to receive her King,—the Lord Jesus Christ” (James E. Talmage, The House of the Lord [1968], 84).

Celestial Marriage

  • Love one’s spouse and remain faithful to him or her and to God through all eternity.

  • Live in ways that contribute to a happy family life and work to bless the life of spouse and children.

  • “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth” (Genesis 1:28).