Ahh how sweet it is!!

Ahh how sweet it is!! That is how I tend to sum up my life in a few words. Plain and simple, life is wonderful! This site will give you just a sneak peak at my thoughts throughout my life. Love, Mel

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Location: Bountiful, Utah, United States

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Quarreling Children & Parent's Responsibility

Reflections – Mosiah 4:14-15
Quarreling Children & Parents’ Responsibility
An E-mail – 5/22/06

Dad here. As to Mark and Myla: Why didn't Mom and I intervene, get angry, threaten punishment, offer rewards or mete out corporeal punishment? First, because Mom was a natural--it wasn't her style. Also, she had already had a semester course wherein she had studied Dreikurs' "Children The Challenge." I was already into PET and was more sensitized to underlying feelings leading to anger, like sadness and disappointment; plus, in processing the issue, it was clear that there were no tangible effects on me from the fighting of two children. Nor was there any plea for help from either person. It was clearly a battle of the wills. (A person convinced against his will is of the same opinion still). I guess we hoped that individual and family prayer, scripture study and family discussions (In the no-problem area) would help, and, ultimately, they did.

What I'm implying is that if families turn out right, it will be because they are lead by the spirit. This is not to say that technique (Thomas Gordon) and philosophy (Rudolph Dreikurs) are not important. I do not believe the Lord wishes us to sit home and pray, meditate and read the scriptures in order to be skilled as parents. We are to learn everywhere and build our knowledge and skills; but the spirit will let us know if we are on course. I've always warned parents that PET skills are not a substitute for love and should not be "turned on" only as a way of getting our kids to do as we want.

I have been thinking about the counsel in Mosiah 4:14-15 and wondered if the Lord expects us to be more "hard-nosed" in dealing with children who quarrel. Like Elder Gene Cook's views on "the Lord giving us weaknesses," I have had sort of an epiphany of sorts subsequent to my reading the following from Douglas Brinley and Daniel Judd, "Eternal Families.":

"Love does not manipulate or guarantee an outcome but invites children into a relationship of mutual love and respect, into a context of caring, compassionate "doing" for each other. With love in our hearts, we are then in a position to teach, invite, persuade, discipline, set limits, forgive, ask to be forgiven, understand each other, and communicate effectively and properly (see Rom. 5:5; Eph. 3:17; 1 Ne. 11:22). The Book of Mormon teaches this, referring to Lehi: "And he did exhort them then with all the feeling of a tender parent, that they would hearken to his words, that perhaps the Lord would be merciful to them, and not cast them off; yea, my father did preach unto them" (1 Ne. 8:37). So, when (and only when) our hearts are loving toward others, doing what is right will naturally follow. The right thing to do in behalf of our children is what we humbly will be seeking for moment by moment, when our hearts are "knit together in love" with them (Col. 2:2; Mosiah 18:21). If our hearts are "right in love," we will be free of contentious, controlling feelings and will know what to do in response to our children's needs (see Mosiah 18:21; 3 Ne. 11:29-32). If we remain faithful, our hearts will be vulnerable and open to specific guidance from the Spirit of the Lord, and we can be given "in the very moment" what to say or do with our children (D&C 100:6). Changing circumstances provide endless possibilities for interaction with our children and may often present new and unique struggles. Each challenge will require a sensitive and flexible parental response so we can appropriately meet each distinctive need as it appears. In crucial moments like these, God is a faithful parent to us (see 1 Cor. 10:13), and if we will hearken to his Spirit, he will not leave us without comfort and knowledge of what to do in that moment (see John 14:12-18). Unique and changing situations are further reasons why inflexible communication recipes, parenting formulas, or step-by-step techniques may ultimately prove destructive. Patented skills or rehearsed communication techniques may predispose us to being insensitive to the Spirit of the Lord and to our children's particular and immediate needs. [This is not threatening to me; remember, we are striving towards unconscious competence; else why have family relations classes in church?]Our focus in these moments is typically on our own agendas and "strategies of understanding" and not upon the needs of our child. If we are not willing to be spiritually influenced when responding to our children's needs, particularly in moments of crisis, we may miss the mark. This is why we need to be meekly vulnerable to the sweet influence of the Spirit of our Father in Heaven to guide us as parents.King Benjamin taught the following to the parents of his day:Believe that ye must repent of your sins and forsake them, and humble yourselves before God; and ask in sincerity of heart that he would forgive you; and now, if you believe all these things see that ye do them.And again I say unto you as I have said before, that as ye have come to the knowledge of the glory of God, or if ye have known of his goodness and have tasted of his love, and have received a remission of your sins, which causeth such exceedingly great joy in your souls, even so I would that ye should remember, and always retain in remembrance, the greatness of God, and your own nothingness, and his goodness and long-suffering towards you, unworthy creatures, and humble yourselves even in the depths of humility, calling on the name of the Lord daily, and standing steadfastly in the faith. . . .. . . I say unto you that if ye do this [now, here is the point--the cause and effect relationship]ye shall always rejoice, and be filled with the love of God, and always retain a remission of your sins; and ye shall grow in the knowledge of the glory of him that created you, or in the knowledge of that which is just and true.And ye will not have a mind to injure one another, but to live peaceably, and to render to every man according to that which is his due.And[if you do the above, this will follow] ye will not suffer your children that they go hungry, or naked; neither will ye suffer that they transgress the laws of God, and fight and quarrel one with another, and serve the devil, who is the master of sin. . . .But ye will teach them to walk in the ways of truth and soberness; ye will teach them to love one another, and to serve one another. (Mosiah 4:10-15.) Notice that this great prophet-king does not give a recipe or formula to follow but rather says that if we will repent, humble ourselves with sincerity of heart, and call upon the Lord daily, we will grow in the knowledge of what is just and true. The result of living daily in the world this way, King Benjamin says, is that we will "not have a mind to injure one another" a nd we will not let our children serve the devil by being quarrelsome. Rather, we will teach them in truth and soberness to love and serve one another. This is the context or atmosphere that is created in a home where "kind and dear" parents are humbly repenting, loving, and serving one another and their children [...listening when children "own" problems, sending well-formed I-Messages, resolving disputes using win/win methods and modeling cherished values]. ...

Summary: Parenting is for parents. As parents our primary concern should be to give our children a parent whose heart is right with the Lord, and with everyone. This means striving to live the gospel of Jesus Christ with all our hearts, following the President of the Church, repenting of our sins, and forgiving others of their sins. This means loving our spouses and children with all our hearts, with the pure love of Christ (see D&C 42:22; Moro. 7:47). In doing these things we would actively, consistently, and diligently teach our children, speaking the truth in love (see Deut. 6:5-7; Eph. 4:15; D&C 88:77-78, 118-19). We would teach not only the scriptures and prophetsnot leaving our children's religious education predominately up to othersbut would also be involved in helping them with schoolwork, teaching them of social and moral issues, helping them develop talents, and having fun and playing with them (see D&C 93:50, 53; 109:7). Teaching the doctrines of the restored gospel as found in the Book of Mormon would be a central feature of family learning and involvement.President Marion G. Romney spoke of the responsibility and blessings of studying the Book of Mormon with our children when he said:I feel certain that if, in our homes, parents will read from the Book of Mormon prayerfully and regularly, both by themselves and with their children, the spirit of that great book will permeate our homes and all who dwell therein. The spirit of reverence will increase; mutual respect and consideration for each other will grow. The spirit of contention will depart. Parents will counsel their children in greater love and wisdom. Children will be more responsive and submissive to the counsel of their parents. Righteousness will increase. Faith, hope, and charity the pure love of Christwill abound in our homes and lives, bringing in their wake peace, joy, and happiness. (In Conference Report, April 1980, pp. 90-91.)Wise teaching would include gradually giving children expanded responsibilities as they mature and are able to learn and do more. When our hearts are loving towards our spouses and children, we can sense what duties are appropriate. At first we will offer assistance, guidance, and practice. We will then patiently let children experience success and failures. When discipline (which comes from a Greek word meaning "a follower") is called for, we will be neither punitive nor permissive but will calmly soothe a crisis moment if need be, and create appropriate settings to quietly receive our children's account of the problem. Especially with our little ones, we will "crawl into their world" and let their lives, their eyes, their struggles, speak to and soften our hearts. With their recommendations and concerns as a foundation, and prayerfully asking guidance from the Lord, it is then our parental opportunity to accept responsibility and ask forgiveness for our contributions to their problems (if any); to teach sound principles; to guide, invite, pray, and fast with them; and to express love and encouragement to them. Throughout the process of correction we will faithfully remain by their side to support, guide, love, and express our confidence in them. Furthermore, we will let them work through solutions and make the necessary amends without suspiciously or accusingly looking over their shoulder and controlling every move, nor indulgently giving up on them and letting them flounder alone and undirected.Children typically struggle through and experience failure as they grow in learning to be responsible. They may whine, resist, and seem unreliable or even unwilling. This is when your child needs you to be the most loving and sensitive to their needs, but ironically it often is the time when parents falter in their faithfulness and may resort to the coercive alternatives of punishing or indulging their children. President Joseph F. Smith, as quoted in the beginning of this chapter, pleaded for parents not to be harsh, angry, violent, or punitive. In the following quote he calls parents to involve themselves in the lives of their children as non indulgent exemplars of righteousness. He taught:I have a fervent prayer in my soul, an earnest desire, that when I shall be called to give my last account, to the Judge of the quick and the dead, I may not be chargeable for the misdeeds of my children. . . .I have had the joy and satisfaction of knowing, as far as it is possible for me to know, that the Lord has put into the hearts of my children the love of God and the love of truth. . . . I would to the Lord that every man, who is a father in Israel, could say as much for his children; and why can't they say so much? . . . I want to tell you one reason why a few of them, at least, can not do it. . . . It is because they love their children with a shallow and unreasonable love. They indulge them to the utmost limit. . . . If a child of theirs should ask them for a razor or a deadly instrument, figuratively speaking, rather than disappoint the child or deny its request, they would put into its hand an instrument of destruction. . . . That is what they are doing when they weakly yield to their foolish whims. . . . God forbid that there should be many of us so unwisely indulgent, so thoughtless and so shallow in our affection for our children that we dare not check them in a wayward course, in wrong-doing and in their foolish love for the things of the world more than for the things of righteousness, for fear of offending them. . . .. . . The time has come for [parents] to look after their children. Every device possible to the understanding and ingenuity of cunning men, is being used for the purpose of diverting our children from the faith of the gospel and from the love of the truth. (In Conference Report, October 1909, pp. 3, 4, 5.)Finally, as parents our divine stewardship is to do all we can short of anxious manipulation or control to teach, invite, guide, and persuade our children to be close to our hearts, love the truth, believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ, and live happy, moral, responsible lives. To offer our children a parental heart that is loving, right, and pure is to be a parent kind and dear. It is to be a parent who honors the Spirit of Christ, agency, and the divine lineage of his or her children. Our children are not ours; we do not own them, nor is it our job to force them to turn out right. With hearts faithful and loving toward our spouses and children, we can create an atmosphere in our homes that will bless our posterity for generations in this life and in the next. Elder Boyd K. Packer observed:It is a great challenge to raise a family in the darkening mists of our moral environment.We emphasize that the greatest work you will do will be within the walls of your home (see Harold B. Lee, in Conference Report, April 1973, p. 130), and that "no success can compensate for failure in the home" (see David O. McKay, in Conference Report, April 1935, p. 116; quoting J. E. McCulloch, Home: The Savior of Civilization [Washington D.C.: The Southern Co-operative League, 1924], p. 42).The measure of our success as parents, however, will not rest solely on how our children turn out. . . ."The Prophet Joseph Smith declared and he never taught a 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 the tentacles of 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." (Orson F. Whitney, in Conference Report, April 1929, p. 110.) (In Conference Report, April 1992, p. 94.)So after all is said and done, when our children return to us it will be because our hearts were right with them, not because we forced them to turn out right. May we all be so "kind and dear" to our children."

--End of Quotation --

Mother's Day Debacle

Don’t Forget Environmental Modification

On Mother’s day I became deskilled. Oh, not for long and not calamitous, but enough so that I wasn’t happy nor was I able to help others to choose to be happy. Yes, it happens—even to the best of us including those who do (not just ought to) know better.

The scene was at the Carr residence where I and the other brethren were preparing a Mother’s day lunch for our wives and mothers. In the midst of setting out the salad, chips, Jell-O and other items, I was suddenly confronted by twenty (excuse the hyperbole—it seemed like 20) children all with their un-Pure Work hands into everything: touching the silverware (on the business end), putting fingers in the cake, spilling the punch, etc. As the mothers watched, I reverted to a bunch of commands, none of which resembled an “I-Message:” “Get away, don’t touch that, go play on the tramp,” etc. Finally, I even grabbed one child’s arm and gave it a squeeze hard enough to leave marks, I’m sure. I commented to Lance, standing nearby, “Man, it’s hard to send I-Messages at a time like this,” to which he responded, “Yea, it doesn’t work with kids.” Flustered, I could say no more. In my heart—and with tons of experience—I knew it does “work” with kids. But how could I refute him? The proof was in the pudding right before our eyes. Even sweet, little, never-do-anything-wrong, constantly smiling Monet was among the perpetrators. Not only was I exasperated (another word for “deskilled,” but I was fearful of losing Lance as a proselyte (similar to missionaries bringing an investigator to testimony meeting only to have the ward bozo stand up).

What happened? I’ll tell you. I became deskilled in trying to use a skill when it will not work. Here’s the deal: I-messages always work EXCEPT under three conditions: 1) You send a lousy I-message, viz., “When you put your dirty hands in the Jell-O, I’m afraid I going to bust you in the nose!” When this happens, fix it. 2) There is no tangible effect on you, viz., When you squirt mustard on Johnny, I worry that his mom will be upset.” When this happens, look for a tangible effect or skip it. 3) The other has a strong need. “But we’re hungrrrrrrrrrrry, and there are more of us than of you!” When this happens, get ready for method III problem solving.

Now, in the above situation, it should be clear that 20 hunngrrrrry children represent a strong need and that sitting down for a nice Method III, at that time, would not be recommended. Does that mean we are finished? That we must abandon hope? That we return to physical and verbal punishment? NOT AT ALL.

Remember, there is a “no problem” area in the rectangle. The key is to bring the other person’s behavior, and yours, into that area. This can be done by: 1) modifying the other, 2) modifying yourself, or 3) MODIFYING THE ENVIRONMENT

Modifying the environment is a great, but often neglected, skill for resolving problems before they occur. “You never have to win a battle you don’t fight.” PET, chapter 8, explains. Had I to do it all over again (and I bet we will next year), I would have realized that we were late in the day (kids hunngrrrrrry—strong need), that Danny’s patio has a small work area, that logistical issues are at a max, etc. I would have Brandon be ready with a number of kid games—all ages (enriching the environment by introducing activities or materials that capture the interest of the child). I would have prepared the plates for all the children in the house, by myself (impoverishing the environment by reducing stimuli—no cake, etc.). I would have fed the children first and then sent them off to play (systematizing, etc.).

By using the skills of adding, removing, changing and planning within the environment, I am sure I could have avoided the very behaviors under which I “chose” to become frustrated and deskilled. (Please note that I still, and always, have the choice to modify myself—in this case, be happy and calm and just let the kids have a food fight. However, I’m not sure how the Mothers would have like strawberry Jell-O on their new mother’s day dresses.

Love, Dad.

Children Fighting (What's a Parent to Do?)

Children Fighting
(What’s a Parent to Do?)

(Mosiah 4:14-15.)

14 And ye will not suffer your children that they go hungry, or naked; neither will ye suffer that they transgress the laws of God, and fight and quarrel one with another, and serve the devil, who is the master of sin, or who is the evil spirit which hath been spoken of by our fathers, he being an enemy to all righteousness.

15 But ye will teach them to walk in the ways of truth and soberness; ye will teach them o love one another, and to serve one another.

Well, that seems pretty clear. Ahhh, but how do we teach? And what if they don’t learn? Do we ultimately go to the club?—lumber, I mean, not the place to drown our sorrows.

It’s a problem—well, at least a situation—all parents face to one degree or another. Marlene and I didn’t, of course, except when…ah, but that’s another story. It would be well to remember the advice of the poet:

The ill-timed truth we might have kept;
Who knows how sharp it pierced and stung.
The word we had not sense to say;
Who knows how grandly it had rung.

Dreikurs, you remember, author of Children the Challenge, distills his recommendations from the psychology of Alfred Adler and proposes the we ought to strive for democratic families, meaning—gasp—that we treat our children like human beings:

“We do not suggest that parents be either permissive nor punitive. What parents have to learn is how to become a match for their children, wise to their ways and capable of guiding them without letting them run wild or stifling them…[children] sense their equality with adults [remember, they are Saturday’s warriors] and no longer tolerate an autocratic dominant-submissive relationship…freedom is part of democracy; but the subtle point that we cannot have freedom unless we respect the freedom of others is seldom recognized...to help our children, then, we must turn from the obsolete autocratic method of demanding submission to a new order based on the principles of freedom and responsibility. Our children no longer can be forced into compliance; they must be stimulated and encouraged into voluntarily taking their part in the maintenance of order. We need new principles of child-raising to replace the obsolete traditions.”

In general, Dreikurs believes:

1. Parents cannot control the child’s behavior. Each child makes up his own mind about what he will do. Parents cannot take responsibility for the child’s behavior. Parents can only try to stimulate the child toward a change in behavior.

2. Life consists only of the present moment. With our children, every moment contributes either to his training, to improvement of relationships, or to the opposite—the development of detrimental attitudes and poor social integration.

3. As to the issue of fighting among siblings, Dreikurs states the following:

4. Fighting is not normal just because it occurs so regularly. Children do not have to fight…when they fight, there is something wrong in the relationships. No one can honestly feel good while fighting. Therefore, if children continue to fight, they must be able to gain satisfaction, not so much in the fight as in the results.

5. Behavior, including fighting, has a purpose. “In this light we cannot be satisfied with the usual ‘explanations’ for fighting—that it is ‘caused’ by an aggressive nature or drive or by heredity and so on. From our point of view, we need to understand a child’s behavior in terms of the field in which it occurs and the purpose which it serves, i.e., to gain attention; to obtain power over the parent; to retaliate and obtain revenge or to demonstrate inadequacy.

6. Scenario: Two children, one five and the other eight. The younger torments the older until the older whacks the younger whereupon the younger runs screaming to Mother. What should she do? Deny herself that first impulse to run at the scream. Just stay out of the fight.

7. Staying out of the fight puts the responsibility for the relationship between the two children, where it belongs. Parents have no “power” to arrange the relationships between their children. However, they can influence the interaction by what they do. “If we act in such a way as to eliminate the satisfying results of the fight, we stimulate a new pattern in their relationship. But in order to do this, Mother must learn to recognize the purpose behind the behavior.

8. So much of our exasperation [over fighting and bickering] results from our feeling overly responsible for our children and their welfare; consequently, we cannot step out of their problems.

9. Whatever the reason behind the children’s fights, parents only make matters worse when they interfere, try to solve the quarrel, or separate the children. Whenever a parent interferes in a fight he is depriving children of the opportunity for learning how to resolve their own conflicts. All of us have to develop skills in dealing with conflict situations.

10. As long as we do things for our children, they cannot learn how to manage for themselves. This applies equally to fighting and to developing independence. A child who has all his fights settled for him may never know how to resolve difficult situations and will resort to fighting aimlessly every time he is crossed or can’t have his own way.

11. It is extremely difficult for parents to see why fights between children are none of their business. They consider it their duty to “teach” children not to fight. And they are right. We should teach our children not to fight. The track is to succeed in doing so. Unfortunately, interference and arbitration do not bring this result.

In sum, Dreikurs believes that all children in a fight—small and large (children, that is)—are getting their needs met subconsciously by getting the parents involved. The only way for parents to break this cycle and build competence is to not meet the children’s needs by STAYING OUT OF FIGHTS.

My view is to 1) modify the environment as much as possible to obviate the need for fighting (PET chapter 8), 2) active listen any child who comes running to you owning a problem, 3) send an I-Message if the fighting has a tangible effect on you, such as the possibility that the $1000 vas you just purchased could be broken. “When you fight near my new vas, I worry that….”

Finally, here’s something I pulled out of Gospel Link that you may find of interest. Take it with a grain of salt unless it comes from a prophet.

That’s about it. As always, comments are welcome. Love, Dad.

What the Book of Mormon Teaches about Rearing Children

The following represents my favorite Book of Mormon child-rearing scriptures. Others may find additional verses that apply.




1. Father (or mother, if there is no father in the home) is to be the spiritual leader in the family and is responsible for teaching the children.

1 Ne. 1:1
1 Ne. 15:30
1 Ne. 16:23–27

The father presides at family home evening, bears testimony to the family, studies the scriptures daily with them, is an example, conducts daily family prayer, presides at family councils, and honors his priesthood.

2. Parental responsibility for both parents begins when the child is an infant; the role is eternal.

2 Ne. 4:5–6
Alma 56:47–48
Mosiah 27

A close, consistent relationship is necessary to develop a child’s trust in the parent. Parents must never give up on a child, but continue to pray for, love, and bless him or her.

3. A one-on-one relationship is crucial.

Alma 36–42

Hold personal interviews periodically. Do things one-on-one so that each child has special moments with his or her parents.

4. Know each child as an individual.

3 Ne. 26:9

Find out what children at various developmental stages are capable of physically, mentally, and emotionally. Don’t expect too much too soon. Children must learn to trust a parent before they can trust themselves.

5. Parents must be humble, teachable, and willing to admit mistakes and repent.

Alma 36

Admit parental errors, misplaced blame, and harshness. Ask for forgiveness.

6. A child learns best when taught by example.

3 Ne. 27:21, 27
Alma 25:17

Demonstrate your values about the Sabbath day, wholesome books and movies, education, self-control, honesty, respect for authority, etc. Verbalize your beliefs and discuss them with your children.

7. A child learns best through praise, positive reinforcement, and expressions of parental faith and trust.

3 Ne. 27:30
Hel. 10:5
Enos 1:1–8

Trust your children to do well, and praise them when they do well. If they fail, let them know that you are disappointed but that you still love them and are willing to let them try again.

8. Correct the child when necessary, then show an abundance of love for him or her.

Hel. 15:3
Ether 2:14

Make sure your children know you love them, in spite of their mistakes. Teach them about their potential as children of God.

9. Set the rule and allow the natural consequences to follow.

1 Ne. 8:37–38
Alma 30
3 Ne. 27:16–20
Ether 3:19, 26

Set a rule together, discuss the consequences, then let the children use their agency to govern their behavior. Resist saying “I told you so” or sparing the children the consequences altogether.

10. Teach children to use their agency.

Alma 24:12–18
Hel. 14:30–31

Allow children to make small decisions in early childhood to develop confidence and wisdom. As they grow older, they can make more important decisions.

11. Listen, listen, listen! Don’t be quick to advise or condemn.

Alma 20 (negative example of fathering)

Things are not always what they appear to be. Give children the benefit of the doubt and don’t assume the worst. Children often need someone to listen while they talk through their problems. Don’t be too quick to give help; rather, help them determine a solution.

12. Discipline is necessary. It should be tailored to the needs of each child.

Mosiah 26:25–36
Alma 30:43–53
Mosiah 4:14–15

Methods of discipline are tailored to each child: Separate an offender from others by placing the child in a “time-out” area; have the child remain at home, away from negative influences, where mother or father can give support in making decisions; have the child work alongside a brother or sister with whom he or she has been fighting; role-play to resolve disagreements.

13. Teach children to love work and to serve others.

Mosiah 4:15–16
Mosiah 6:6–7

Children need to serve one another and the family to feel worthwhile.
Gospel topics: Book of Mormon, parenthood, scripture study

("The Book of Mormon As a Guide for Parents," Ensign, July 1988.)

***Bringing the Priesthood into My Home By Cheryl A. Faust

As a single mother, how would I find priesthood direction for my family?
It was another one of those mornings. Lying in bed, I could hear the children fighting, not remembering a word I had said the last hundred times this had happened. In moments like these, I felt the strain of being a single parent and wished that in an instant I could summon an honorable priesthood holder to come to my aid.

That morning, however, I felt inspired to say a prayer and ask Heavenly Father to help me show greater love and encouragement to the children, instead of flying out of my room like a magpie, chirping away the standard lectures on fighting.

After my prayer I calmly got up and readied myself for the day. As I was doing so, one of the children came into my room and rehearsed to me the unfair treatment one of her brothers had shown her. I began to tell her I would take care of it, just as I always had, but then I stopped, realizing I had to change my approach. I felt the inspiration of the Holy Ghost tell me that if I took care of all of my children’s disagreements, they would never learn how to deal with each other or with society in general. But to teach them that, I had to stop being afraid to take action.

When I walked out of the room, the fighting had not ceased. My youngest son was in the process of slamming the back door and going after my oldest son in complete frustration. I called for all of my children and asked them to come into the living room. They somewhat guiltily obeyed, not sure what to expect—and frankly, I wasn’t sure either. What should I say? I asked myself. How are we as a family going to turn this around?

I sat down, and as I heard my own calm voice start to speak, it appeared that the nagging magpie had flown away. I expressed my concerns about my children’s behavior and let them know that our actions, not our words alone, were going to change what was happening in our home. Unlike in the past, when I had kept the floor solely for myself, I listened to my children’s comments. The atmosphere was different—I wasn’t afraid; I wasn’t alone. And instead of looking at the faces of four frightened little rabbits ready to be pounced on, I saw the faces of my children, Heavenly Father’s children.

Then something of even greater significance happened. As we discussed consequences for the children’s behavior that morning, I thought of a general conference address by Elder Joe J. Christensen titled “The Savior Is Counting on You.”

The night before, as I was lying in bed, I had felt like reading. First I had picked up a novel, but I couldn’t seem to focus on it. Then I picked up the November 1996 Ensign. I began to thumb through it until I finally stopped at Elder Christensen’s talk and started to read. I knew I was being guided, and I felt there was an answer there, though I was not completely sure what it was for—until this morning.

On pages 39 and 40 the article stated, “The scriptures teach us that whenever we are abusive, thoughtless, or unkind to others, ‘the devil laugheth, and his angels rejoice’ (3 Ne. 9:2); also, that ‘the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen [or the end] to the priesthood or the authority of that man’ (D&C 121:37).”
I read this passage to my children, and afterward my youngest son, Evan, commented thoughtfully, “I don’t like it when people laugh at me.” Stephanie said, “When we are acting that way we may not be able to hear the laughing with our ears, but we hear it inside when we feel guilty.” We began a meaningful discussion about our behaviors and about how teasing and fighting may prevent us from hearing the promptings of the Holy Ghost. The discussion ended with a prayer by my son Keane, who asked that “we be able to remember the things that we learned this morning.”

After I got the children off to school, I meditated about what had just come to pass. Suddenly I realized that there indeed had been a priesthood holder in my home—his name was Elder Joe J. Christensen. He had been right by my side, supporting me as I was teaching my children. I also realized that on another occasion it might be President Gordon B. Hinckley or perhaps Elder Neal A. Maxwell. There was a righteous army of honorable priesthood holders who could come to my rescue during even the most trying moments with my children.

It felt wonderful to know I could be inspired by the words of the General Authorities and that I could act instead of being acted upon. I felt a confidence I had never before experienced whenever I had faced challenges with my children.

There are living priesthood holders whose counsel and guidance can be in our homes daily as we study and pray. When we allow them in, we are not alone.

Gospel topics: motherhood, priesthood, prophets, single parenthood
("Bringing the Priesthood into My Home," Ensign, August 1998.)

***One of the main mistakes parents make is to accidentally teach misbehavior. For example, when children fight they usually do it because they get some kind of payoff. It’s sometimes rewarding to make the other child cry or run away. If you push him off the rocking horse, you’ve then got the rocking horse. Or, especially for smaller children, they get Mom and Dad involved and get the reward of having their attention. If that’s why your children are fighting, stop reinforcing them. Either ignore them, go into another room, or send them to another room. Let children learn to settle their own differences.
("Reward Them, and Teach Responsibility , Eugene Mead "Ensign, April 1974.)

*** Teaching the Joy of Obedience and Decisions

"The home is the best place in which to develop obedience which nature and society will later demand." (David O. McKay, Stepping Stones to an Abundant Life, Deseret Book, 1971, p. 289.)

"Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it." (Proverbs 22:6.)

I. Examples and Description

Wrong decisions avoided and right decisions made produce happiness. Many of life's decisions are made simply by the existence of law: moral law, natural law, governmental law, God's law. Obeying a law always yields a reward; breaking one inevitably produces punishment. One who knows and is committed to a law makes in advance decisions related to that law. (Most of us have decided in advance not to jump off tall buildings because we know and respect the law of gravity.) To those who know and accept other laws, it can be equally natural to decide in advance to marry in the temple, to finish one's education, to turn the other cheek, to stop and help those in need, to attend church and fill church assignments, to go on a mission, or to live the Word of Wisdom.

The other decisions, the laws without a right and wrong, the laws with many alternatives, are somewhat more difficult; yet they constitute one important aspect of why we are here on earth: to learn to weigh, to analyze, to think, to ponder—to make free choices with our free agency. The Lord stands ready, as he states in Doctrine and Covenants, section 9, to confirm and assure us in our decisions if they are right, and to give us a "stupor of thought" (to tell us to start over) if they are wrong.

The joy of obedience and of correct decisions is the joy of progress, of being on the right course. Some might say that this "course-keeping" joy is the prerequisite to eternal joy.

A. Adult: I have a good friend who likes to talk about decisions. He says: "The Lord has made so many of our decisions for us. He's told us what to do, but he's left us with the excitement of deciding how and when and where and with whom. For example," he goes on, "I feel sorry for anyone who tries to decide what to do with one-tenth of his earnings, or where to get married, or what to do on Monday nights. The Lord has already told us these things. I save my mind for the hard decisions, for the ones where the teacher hasn't already given out the answer sheet."

This friend relishes decisions. He loves to lay out the alternatives, to think things through, to decide—and then to take his decision to the Lord for confirmation. I see two consistent joys in him: the joy of obedience (in the things God has already decided), and the joy of decisions (in the things he has left up to us).

I asked my friend once just where he learned to think that way. He said, "As a child in family councils and in private interviews with my father."

B. Child: Romping out of the candy store, our four-year-old Saren, just learning to count money, discovered she had been given change for fifty cents rather than a quarter. Initial excitement: "I've got more money than when I came, and the candy." Then conscience: "I'd better give it back to the man." Then the real joy as she came back out of the store: "Daddy, he said he wishes everyone was honest like me!" There is true joy in simple, voluntary obedience.

That story reminds me of another time, another store, another child—Saren's father. I was age eight, and buying my first bicycle. I had twenty-five dollars, saved up from Grandma's gifts and from collecting and returning coat hangers and pop bottles. There were two used bikes in town for twenty-five dollars, one a red Schwinn and one a silver Silverchief. I couldn't choose. First I wanted one, then the other. My wise father took me back out to the car, found a large white sheet of paper, and drew a line down the center. "Let's list the reasons for the red bike in one column and the reasons for the silver bike in the other," he said. I did. I remember the thrill of thinking in a way I had never thought before. When the list was done, the silver bike was selected. (After all, no one else had one like it.) I kept that bike for ten years, and the memory of the joy of deciding on it never dimmed.

There is tremendous joy and satisfaction in learning that things are governed by laws. Psychologists tell us that small children usually believe that their desires control circumstances and cause things to happen. The time when a three- or four-year-old realizes that this is not the case, that things happen independently of his wants, can be a very traumatic time. Or, if he is being taught about laws in a positive, constructive way, it can be a time of real awakening joy.

In the gospel it is not only interesting but eternally instructive that the first law taught, the first covenant entered, is that of obedience. Laws and discipline are outgrowths of love—of God's love. Too many of us adults think of laws as restrictions, confinements; it's too bad the words commandment and law sound so repressive. We should remember that the Ten Commandments could also be called "The Ten Ways to Be Happy." Obedience to law actually gives freedom by rescuing us from the natural consequences and confinements of broken laws. Freedom and truth are first cousins.

The priesthood is the power to control laws. Faith is the belief in laws we can't understand. Children, even small ones, can grasp these truths—sometimes more easily than adults can. Children need to be given the latitude to make their own decisions. They will make some wrong ones, but will learn, with our help, from the consequences. While they are young, the decisions and their consequences will not be weighty enough to do permanent damage. And by the time decisions become important, they will know how to make them.

II. Methods

A. Teach children to differentiate between situations governed by law and situations governed by decision.

*1. The picture game: Show various pictures and ask with each one, "Is there a law, or do we decide?"

a. car going past speed limit sign (law of the land)

b. person walking by a cliff (law of gravity)

c. child getting dressed (we decide which shirt)

d. children fighting (law of God)

e. child buying ice cream at 31-flavor store (we decide)

*2. Make up stories that get to points of "What should he do?" (Is there a law that tells him, or does he make a decision?)

3. Tell a story about a home without any rules. What happens? Is the family happy? (The story could also be about a school without rules.)

B. Expect and demand "perfect obedience."

Teach children that "perfect obedience" means to say, "Yes, Mommy," or "Yes, Daddy," and to obey immediately whenever they are told to do or not to do something. This may seem rather arbitrary or militaristic, but children inherently love discipline—it gives them a type of security that is otherwise unavailable. Always say "please" to children so that they feel your respect and love. Make "please" a trigger word by teaching them that whenever they hear it, they should say, "Yes, Mommy" and obey. When they do not respond quickly, just say the words "perfect obedience" to remind them to say "Yes, Mommy."

Children should know that they have the right to ask why, but that perfect obedience (with the "Yes, Mommy") is expected right after the why answer is given.

C. Design frequent opportunities for decision making.

1. Have two kinds or colors of juice to choose from.

2. Let the children draw pictures, choosing only three colors to use.

*3. Let the children choose only one tool to work with in sculpting clay or whipped soap flakes.

4. Let the children choose the bedtime story.

*5. Set up a treasure hunt where a series of correct decisions leads to a surprise or treasure.

6. Let the children choose what clothes to wear. Help them think it through: "Is it warm?" "Will I get dirty today? "

7. Let the children choose what to spend their nickel or dime on—or whether to save it.

8. Make family decisions in family council. (What should we do at our next family home evening? What should we do this Saturday?)

D. Tell stories about wise or foolish decisions you have made and what the consequences were.

E. Reinforce and discuss the consequences of decisions. "What will happen if you do that?" "Will that make your sister happy or sad?"

F. Discipline. Parents must make their own decisions about the methods of discipline, but certain principles always apply.

1. Children should be disciplined in private rather than in public.

2. Children will repeat the activities that attract the greatest attention. The key, therefore, is to make a bigger thing of the attention given (encouragement and reinforcement) for doing something right than of the attention given (punishment) for doing something wrong. Give lavish, open praise for the right, and quiet, automatic discipline for the wrong.

3. Children should know the reasons for the laws they are expected to keep and should think of obedience in terms of observing laws, not in terms of obeying people.

4. Children find great security in consistent, predictable discipline.

5. Discipline should be thought of as a way of teaching truth.

6. Punishments should be administered only when laws are broken. When children make wrong decisions in areas not governed by law, their punishment should come through the natural consequences of those wrong choices. (If a child forgets his coat, he gets cold and needs no other punishment.)

G. Teach the principle of repentance. Children should learn that through genuine repentance they can avoid punishment. Teach children the beauty of repenting toward each other. We have learned in our family that when one child teases another, or hurts another in some way, a simple form of repentance can restore good feelings much faster than punishment. We remind the guilty child, "You'd better repent." Repentance, for one of our children, consists of four things: (1) a hug for the other child; (b) a request, "Will you forgive me?"; (3) a statement, "I'll try not to ever do that again"; and (4) asking Heavenly Father for forgiveness that night in prayer.

III. Family Focal Point: The Family Laws Chart

One of the most memorable family home evenings we have ever had was the night we agreed to the "family laws." We had prepared a framed piece of heavy posterboard and put a nail in the wall to hang it on, and now we explained to Saren (four) and Shawni (three) that this was to be a list of our family laws.

We talked for a moment about "nature laws" and "country laws" and "church laws" and, as usual, got the best definition of the word from Saren.

"What is a law then, Saren?"

"Something that, if you keep it, you're happier, and if you don't keep it, a bad thing happens to you." The stage was now set.

"What are some laws for our family that, if we keep them, will make us happier?" The list gained momentum. Saren's openers got Shawni thinking and the list grew:

"Don't hit other little girls."

"Don't plug in plugs."

"Don't ruin things that are not for ruining."

"Say the magic words (please, thank you, excuse me)."

We had to help with some that they didn't think of:

"Stay in bed when put there."

"Keep your seat belt on when riding in a car."

"Don't walk while holding the baby."

"Don't go in the road unless holding Mommy's or Daddy's hand."

"Mind with no back talk." (Saren added a clarification here: "But we can ask why!")

We really didn't realize, at the time, what a help the list would be. Rather quickly the children grasped the idea that they were obeying laws that they had helped decide on, laws that would make our family happier.

Some time later, in another family home evening, we decided as a family which punishments should go with which laws. The children decided that a little spank was the most appropriate punishment for hitting and for certain other serious or dangerous violations. They decided that "going to our room" should be the penalty for whining and for certain of the other laws. On some laws, we decided that one warning should be given before a punishment would be required. By the raise of hands, we sustained each punishment and wrote it on the "family laws board."

IV. Story: "Cheekey and the Laws"

Cheekey was a baby monkey. He lived with his sister and his mother and father in a tree. Their tree was in the jungle. In the jungle there were some laws. They were called the Jungle Laws. Do you know what laws are? (Things that you must do right or else you get punishment.)

Do you know what a punishment is? (Something sad that happens when you break a law.)

There were two laws in Cheekey's jungle. One was that whenever you were in a tree, you had to hold on with your hand, or your foot, or your tail. What do you think the punishment was if you broke that law? (You would fall!)

The other jungle law was that if you saw a lion coming, you had to quickly climb up a tree. What do you think the punishment was if you broke that law? (You would get eaten up!)

In Cheekey's own family tree, there were two family laws. One law was that you couldn't go out of the tree without asking. Why do you think they had that law? (So Cheekey wouldn't get lost.)

Why didn't his mother and father want him to get lost? (Because they loved him.)

What do you think the punishment was if Cheekey went out of his tree without asking? (His mother gave him a little swat with her tail right on his bottom.)

Why did his mother do that? (So he wouldn't go out of the tree again.)

Why didn't she want him to do it again? (Because she loved him and didn't want him to get lost.)

The other monkey family law was to never drop your banana peels on limbs of the family tree. Why do you think they had that law? (So no one would slip on them and fall out of the tree.)

Why did the monkey family decide to have a law like that? (Because they loved each other and didn't want anyone in their family to get hurt.)

What do you think the punishment was for breaking that law? (A little swat on the bottom.)

Why would the mother do that? (Because she loved Cheekey and wanted him to remember not to do it again.)

Now, I'm going to tell you the things that happened to Cheekey one day. Sometimes there were laws to tell him what to do and sometimes there weren't any laws and he could decide for himself.

When Cheekey first woke up in the morning, he had to stretch and yawn, and he almost let go of the branch. Was there a law to tell him what to do? (Yes—hold on or he would fall.)

Then he looked at his two hats, a red one and a green one. Was there a law to tell him which to wear? (No, he could choose whichever one he wanted. He chose the red one.)

Then he wanted to climb down out of the tree to find a banana for breakfast. Was there a law to tell him what to do? (Yes—ask his mother so she would know where he was and he wouldn't get lost.)

He found a big banana and a little banana. Was there a law to tell him which one to choose? (No—he could choose either one he wished.) Cheekey chose the big one because he was very hungry.

While he was walking back to his tree, he saw a lion. Was there a law to tell him what to do? (Yes—climb up a tree quickly or the lion would eat him!)

Cheekey climbed up a tree. After the lion went away he went back to his own tree and wondered which limb to sit on to eat the banana. Was there a law to tell him where to sit? (No—he could choose any limb he wanted.)

When he peeled the banana, was there a law about the peel? (Yes—don't leave it on a limb.)

Cheekey had a fun, safe day. It's fun and safe when you know the laws and do what they say and it's fun to decide things when there isn't a law about them.

V. Reading List

Arnold, A. The Yes and No Book. Chicago: Reilly & Lee Books, 1970.

Coombs, P. Lisa and the Grompet. New York: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard, 1970.

Gunthrop, K. Curious Maggie. New York: Doubleday and Co., 1968.

Johnston, J. Edie Changes Her Mind. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1964.

Leaf, M. Fair Play. New York: J. P. Lippincott Co., 1939.

Lowrey, J. S. The Pokey Little Puppy. New York: Golden Press, 1942.

Odor, R. Cissy, the Pup. Chicago: Child's World, 1977.

Rice, I. A Long Long Time. New York: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard, 1964.

Waber, B. Ira Sleeps Over. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1972.

Williams, B. If He's My Brother. New York: Harvey House Publishers, 1976.

VI. Postscript

As the teacher was reading a story, Travis kept bothering Andy, who was interested in the story and was trying to listen. After twice reminding Travis that it was "listening time," the teacher removed him from the group and Andy was heard to say, "I'm glad we have rules in this school."

Jamie's mother told this experience: As they pulled up to a large office building that Jamie's father had recently built, Jamie said, "Daddy, that was really a big decision you had to make on where to build this building, wasn't it?" Then her younger sister added, "Was it a good decision, Daddy? Did it make you happy?"

Next 4

(Linda and Richard Eyre, Teaching Children Joy [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1980], 26.)


How to help your children get along

Date: 11/22/97

• Call the children by their own names. An only child wouldn't be called "the boy" or "the singlet;" neither should two boys or girls be called "the boys," "the girls" or "the twins."

• Don't compare the children. Instead of saying, "Why can't you fold your arms like your brother?" say, "Please fold your arms so we can pray."

• Teach them how to resolve their own conflicts. For example, when two children are fighting over a toy, help them come up with their own solution. Taking a toy away until they learn to share doesn't teach them how to share.

• Realize that being fair doesn't necessarily mean treating them the same. A punishment for one child might not work for another. Likewise, a reward for one child may not be a reward for another.

• Discipline or scold in private. When a child is scolded in front of brothers or sisters, it creates feelings of resentment and embarrassment. And never ask one child to scold another child for you.

• Observe positive behavior. Whenever I see my children playing nicely, I try to remember to say, "I'm so happy you are playing nicely together." Or if I see one child doing something nice for another, I say, "What a good brother you are!"

• Help your children recognize brothers'/sisters' emotions. Saying things like, "Your brother is sad because you took his toy away," or "Your brother is smiling because he's happy that you gave him an ice cream cone" will help your child see the consequences of his/her actions.

• Seek the Lord. Whenever I'm faced with a parenting problem that doesn't seem to have a solution, I ask the Lord for help. Many times the Holy Ghost will whisper to me what I should do to restore peace and harmony into the home.—Heather Pack, Mesa, Ariz.

What we did:

Foster closeness

As a mother of four, including three teenage daughters, I've always felt lucky that our girls were best friends. But people often ask us what we did to foster such closeness, and that's made me think a little more about it. Here are a few things that helped us:

• Encourage each child to discover and develop his/her unique talents. One may excel in music, one in sports and one in writing. Find a way for each to shine.

• Encourage the children to attend siblings' games, concerts, awards programs, etc.

• Have fun as a family and foster friendships within the family. Go camping together, explore your city, bake cookies, visit friends.

• Sit together as a family during sacrament meeting, pray for each other in family prayer, talk to each other over meals and at family home evening.

• Give praise and compliments freely and sincerely. Our 11-year-old son loves it when an older sister tells him his hair looks good.

• Help each child feel loved and unique so there isn't competition or jealousy between the children.

- Emphasize the fact that friends may come and go over the years, but your family is together for eternity. Our family members are our best friends.—Linda Toone, York, Pa.

Sought help

When our 3-year-old daughter was unkind to our newborn girl, my husband and I sought help. We learned that we cannot force our children to love each other, but we should praise them incredibly when they are kind and discipline when they are not.

In our case, it was necessary to make a poster of photos of being kind to and sharing with the baby. We titled it, "Being Gentle to (child's name)." This visual aid helped our daughter tremendously. The two girls are now close and show love continually toward each other.—Vera Sawyer, San Antonio, Texas

Special night

My wife and I were married 18 months ago, bringing together two families with different backgrounds. The families have bonded so much more quickly and easily than either of us dared to hope for. There are numerous reasons, but one in particular I would like to share.

Each child has his/her special night once a week where there is one-on-one with the parents. The other children go to bed. The "special" person that night selects the activity and a small treat. The evening lasts from a half hour to one hour. The children try extra hard to eliminate all rivalry and contention. The penalty is five to 15 minutes off the offender's night. This activity is fun for all, and it has worked miracles in our home.—Cal Rowley, Polson, Mont.

Don't boss

When I'm alone with one of my daughters, I will occasionally tell her that her sister loves her very much. Because they are young, they don't verbally express their love for one another that often, so I do this to help them love and feel closer to each other.

Just as I try not to boss my children around, I do not allow my daughters to boss each other. When they do so, it demonstrates disrespect and creates contention.—Shelli H. Tyler, Salt Lake City, Utah

Keep problems private

Keep each child's problems private so you won't humiliate the child in front of the others. Include each child in the gift selection and money spending for the other children, especially for Christmas and birthdays.

Review reports and special achievements privately and seek permission of the child achiever before making family announcements.

Each child has his or her own living space and has the responsibility to help clean and to keep his/her own area clean.

Don't yell at your children or make children take sides with family members against other family members, including parents.—Shelley R. Waasdorp, Salt Lake City, Utah

Scriptural helps

While on a recent trip I came across a plaque with Bible scriptures on it. The verses told children how to get along. I bought it and edited it with some LDS scriptures. I printed it out and framed it. I also made one for each of my children, who are all married, for Christmas. I wish I'd had it all in one place when my children were small. Some of the suggestions with LDS scriptures are the following:

• "Look after and help each other. Mosiah 4:5."

• "Keep your promises. D&C 136:20."

• "Try to understand each other's point of view. 3 Ne. 17:6."—Cheryl Holmes, American Fork, Utah

How to checklist:

1 Seek the Lord's help, guidance; follow the scriptures.

2 Treat each child as unique; praise; encourage talents.

3 Discipline privately; don't let them boss, scold each other.

4 Foster family closeness; teach that family is forever.


Nov. 29 "How to enlarge your social circle, make new friends as a single member of the Church."

Dec. 6 "How to feel, spread the spirit of Christmas when you live alone."

Dec. 13 "How to find strength and be a positive influence when you're the only member in your family."

Dec. 20 "How to make Christ the center of Christmas traditions."

Dec. 27 "How to develop qualities of discipleship."

Jan. 3 "How to gain a deeper spiritual appreciation for the Old Testament."

Jan. 10 "How to better serve those to whom you are assigned as a home teacher or visiting teacher in 1998."

- Also interested in letters on these topics: "How to get out of a rut in your career," "How to help yourself or loved one overcome an abusive nature," "How to be prepared to share the gospel and answer questions," "How to build a strong work ethic in children," "How to encourage children and young people to be physically active."

(How To Help Your Children Get Along, LDS Church News, 1997, 11/22/97 .)

*** How Could I Stop the Fighting?

By Kay Lynne McDougal

During the time my husband was serving as bishop, I often faced family challenges alone. One such incident occurred while I was completing a sewing project downstairs. I heard my girls calling me with frightened voices. When I arrived at the top of the stairs, they directed me to where my older sons were fighting. While our children occasionally disagree, this time fists were flying in anger.

Both boys were bigger than I, and I wasn’t sure if I should physically intervene. In the best authoritative voice I could muster, I demanded they stop, and the boys broke away. I was surprised and felt grateful for sons who would obey even when they were upset. I sent them to their rooms and went into my bedroom to regain my composure and decide what to do.

My eyes fell on a plaque my mother made for me years before that hangs on the wall of our room. It reads: “Have you tried prayer?” The message impressed me with startling clarity, and with it came an idea. I went to each boy’s bedroom and quietly asked them to wait for me in the den. I was still trembling with emotion when I entered the den and closed the door. I took each boy by the hand and gently pulled them down to kneel with me in prayer.

As I prayed to Heavenly Father, I felt the terrible tension begin to disappear. I told him of my great love for my sons and of their desire to be happy and to make right choices. I talked of how grateful I was that they had been good, obedient sons. I talked of the gratitude their father and I felt for the strong sons sent to our home and the excitement we felt for their great potential for good. I closed my prayer, sincerely aware of the powerful potential for good that lay within them.

I smiled and asked them to each take a turn to pray. They hesitated briefly, then offered simple and sincere prayers to Heavenly Father.

I realized then that during times when my husband could not be with us, I was being guided in ways that blessed our family. As we walked out of the den that day, we were all keenly aware of the reality of our Father’s love and his great desire that we cast our burdens at his feet and allow his Spirit to soothe and direct our lives.

Gospel topics: motherhood, prayer ("Mormon Journal," Ensign, October 1998.)

***Changing Children’s Behavior:
How to Help Them Stop Doing What They Shouldn’t
By Dean and Paula Sorensen

“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” (Prov. 22:6.)
These words reflect the hope we all share as parents—to see our children avoid Satan’s snares and keep on the path that leads safely back to God. Of course our primary concern is not just to stop them from doing wrong, but also to help them do right. Indeed, the more successful we are in teaching them how to live properly in the first place, the less we need focus on mistakes and errors.

But in spite of our best efforts and their best intentions, mistakes do happen; learning is often by trial and error. Just as a carefully launched rocket needs frequent steering correction to reach its goal, so do our children. It’s our responsibility as parents to become as skilled as we can in helping them make the many steering corrections needed for a successful life’s journey.
While simple formulas and glossy generalizations often fall short in helping us cope with real situations, there are certain principles that many parents find useful. When four-year-old Kristi paints the living room wall with soft butter, or eight-year-old Andy clobbers one of his school mates, or six-year-old Leif sets fire to the neighbor’s garbage can, or nine-year-old Brett makes little sister cry by calling her a “dumb dodo,” or eleven-year-old Sally skips Sunday School class, consider the following questions before deciding what to do.

Should I Follow My First Impulse?

The answer is often no. Be wary of quick, unthinking responses to troublesome situations. What comes automatically is not always the best response. Remember, situations where we attempt to change our children’s actions are among the most challenging we ever face. Surely they warrant as much careful planning and prayer as we would give to speaking in church or presenting an important report at work. Even a moment’s reflection before acting can sometimes mean the difference between foolishly serving only our own needs or wisely serving the needs of our children.

This doesn’t mean we can’t respond quickly and decisively. In many cases we can anticipate what children might do and can plan appropriate actions in advance. The important thing is that our responses be the products of our best thinking; not just reflexive actions based on habit.

Should I Interfere at All?
So many bothersome things our children do are really not that important. Children almost by definition have many rough edges to them. How often do we meddle and later wish we hadn’t? Sometimes when we simply overlook their mistakes things will work out fine.

A short time ago in our family, Dad decided to spend a week “just tolerating” situations he usually would have stepped into. There were some pleasant surprises. Here’s what happened on two of these occasions: When two-year-old Mark started slurping spilled ice cream directly off the table, Dad’s usual response would have been, “No, Mark! Do you want to turn into a germ? Yuck!” Instead, he just wrinkled his nose and kept silent. And after a few slurps, Mark went back to eating out of his bowl—no permanent damage done.

And when Steve (four), Julie (six), and Sheri (nine) turned the family room into a tent city by dragging out every blanket in the house and draping them over and between chairs, Dad would have usually said, “Hey, what’s going on here? You can’t turn the whole house into a scene from the Arabian Nights!” Instead he only reminded them to fold up the blankets when they were through. After two more hours of play, the folded blankets were neatly put away—by the children.

Of course, sometimes intervention is necessary—and quickly, too! (For example, one should intervene when the behavior is really objectionable or will result in injury to someone.) But when it isn’t necessary, a hands-off policy seems in order.
Can I Block Rewards for the Misbehavior?

Most of our children’s actions are directed toward some outcome, some “payoff,” whether it be getting attention, showing who is toughest, getting even, or just making someone holler. The more often they get what they want through misbehaving, the more likely they’ll keep doing it. But if we can correctly perceive what the payoff is, and then can block it, the behavior often stops.

For instance, Steven was the wiggliest and noisiest two-year-old we ever took to sacrament meeting. Because of his antics we had to pick him up and head for the foyer about halfway through each service. He was quite happy outside—as long as he could climb over chairs in the Relief Society room, run down the halls, and play in the drinking fountain. We assumed he would grow out of his restlessness like our other children had. But as time went on he became even worse and stayed quiet in meetings for shorter periods of time.

Then we tried something different. Whenever his antics reached an intolerable level one of us would take him out as usual. But instead of letting him play, we would go downstairs, place him on top of a piano for a few minutes, hold him safely, and not utter a word.

He wasn’t talking much at that age, but his expression said unmistakably, “What am I doing up here? This isn’t even as good as sitting it out in church. At least I get my quiet book in there!” His behavior improved steadily from that time on, and so did our enjoyment of sacrament meeting.

One day Sheri “discovered” a bad word that caused quite a stir in our home—especially since the home teachers were there! Somehow the spectacle of a lovely little four-year-old peppering her conversation in very imaginative ways put her right on center stage, and she loved it. It didn’t seem to matter whether people laughed or were shocked, Sheri got her payoff either way: Attention! Recognition!

How did we stop it? First, we explained quietly that the word wasn’t one we should use. And since her payoff came from our adult friends—the children she knew were not so impressed by colorful language—we asked for their help: “Don’t respond at all when she says her word.” With everyone’s patience and cooperation the word soon lost its magic and she quit using it.

How Should He Behave?

When you see your child misbehaving, before reprimanding him ask yourself, “What should he be doing instead, and how can I encourage it?” He can’t very well be doing what he should and what he shouldn’t at the same time.

Are your children fighting? Pull out a puzzle and play with them, at least until things are going smoothly again. Or start a game of tag in the back yard. Or get them busy helping you with the dishes.

Do you have a son whose tidiness can only be described as an ecological disaster? Put him in charge of the family’s daily “ten item pickup” and praise him for his efforts. Or make a game out of collecting left-around items for the family lost and found, which are then “auctioned” to the highest-bidding child for a day’s use.

Whenever we can divert our children from bad behavior to good we accomplish two powerful goals—we enhance our relationship with them, and we teach them how to behave instead of just how not to.

Should a Penalty Be Involved?

Parents generally use two options in meting out penalties. Either they take away some toy or privilege or activity desired by the child, or they cause something unpleasant to happen to the child—a stern look, a “straight talk,” a loud voice, or a spanking.

Penalties can be effective in guiding children, but they must be administered with wisdom, justice, and consistency. Otherwise feelings can be badly bruised, and long-term resentments can be created.

A close and loving relationship is an indispensable key in helping our children grow. The closer we are to them, the more impact our words will have and the more they will want to follow our example. But relationships between parents and children are delicate and may be easily torn. A stinging reprimand upon catching Mark with his tongue in the sugar bowl might work perfectly—if our only concern is to keep the sugar clean. But reprimands can sometimes cause more harm than good. Cross feelings and words can, over time and many occurrences, impel our children to turn to others for their deepest emotional ties. In so doing they are more likely to adopt attitudes and actions leading to painful consequences. So whenever we impose penalties, we try to let the punishment actually enhance our trust and love for each other. This is not always easy.

But we have found a few guidelines that can help.

Whenever possible, let the penalty follow as a natural consequence of the behavior. When Jeff kept leaving his baseball glove out in the yard, the dog decided it was a giant dog biscuit and shredded it. Jeff had to earn the money to replace it.

On “candy bar day” a child pocketed an extra piece of licorice and slipped out of the store. We brought him to face the manager and make restitution.

Be sure your child understands the connection between the misbehavior and the penalty. Penalties that follow soon after the misbehavior are generally most effective. If delay is necessary, it’s wise to counsel with your child until he can tell you accurately just what he did and how it got him into trouble.

Be sure he understands how he should act as well as how he shouldn’t. This points up one of the disadvantages of spankings and the like: They can give a child the notion that he has “paid for his sin” by simply enduring a brief discomfort. Unless careful teaching accompanies the punishment his actions often do not improve.

Whenever possible let the penalty end as soon as his behavior improves. In our home we make frequent use of “go to your room.” For how long?

“Until you can get a hold on yourself and …
not fight at the dinner table,
do your chores without complaining,
keep quiet upstairs while the baby is sleeping,
keep your fingers off the brownies, or
not tease your little sister.”

This approach has several advantages over setting a definite time for them to stay there. First, they can’t come out until they have actually improved, so it’s thorough. Second, they can come out the minute they do improve, so it’s efficient. Third, it encourages them to think about their behavior, not just the passing of time. And fourth, it focuses on the good behavior that’s expected of them, not just what they’ve done wrong.

When they do emerge from their bedroom, we accept this as the signal that all is well and show an “increase of love” to patch up feelings as quickly as we can. Usually saying, “Hey, it’s great to have you back! I miss you when you’re stuck away in there,” is enough to get a grin out of them, and things are back to normal—except that a lesson has been learned a little better.

Our children are basically good people—but to stay on the right path they occasionally need some “steering corrections.” By teaching them which way is right, by making sure they understand punishments, by working to keep love and trust strong between us, and by ignoring minor irritations and correcting only the infractions that really need attention, parents can accomplish their difficult task—most of the time. Yet because every child is unique, no one system will work perfectly for all children. Ask us our guidelines for disciplining children in another couple of years, and we’ll probably have as many new ideas as we have new gray hairs! And the best teachers of how to raise children are the children themselves—if we as parents are sensitive to what they think and feel and want.

Gospel topic: children

***I found that when the children started fighting or making a mess, I could pray for help to control my anger—right then and there, before I lost my temper. I found that I could pray silently while washing the dishes or changing a diaper or taking a shower as well as on my knees at night before I went to bed. This brought a new source of strength to my life. Heavenly Father had always been there, willing to bless and aid; but I had mistakenly thought I must always wait until I had time to pray before I could approach him.

“Now I even see my little children follow my example. They will stop to pray silently during a nature walk because they are overwhelmed with the beauty they see—and sometimes they will even pray silently when they feel like clobbering their sister. I wonder how we ever got along before.”

("Spiritual Growth for Young Mothers ," Ensign, July 1983.) ("Changing Children’s Behavior: How to Help Them Stop Doing What They Shouldn’t ," Ensign, December 1977.)

*** (Using the Gospel in Parenting – one person’s experience)

…For example, I was having a hard time getting the children to cooperate. They would fight with each other, ignore my requests to help with small jobs until I became insistent or angry, and act up or show off at the most inconvenient times. Alma’s interviews with his sons in Alma 36–42 made me realize how well he knew each one as an individual and how crucial a personal relationship with each child is. My husband, Doug, and I began holding interviews periodically with each child and doing things alone with each one. It helped to set aside special days or dates with each child and make bedtime less hectic and more personal. We found that by treating our children as individuals rather than lumping them together as “the kids,” they felt less need to seek our attention in negative ways. As they became more sure of themselves and their place in the family, they became more cooperative.

Another example of good parenting is found in 2 Nephi 28:30, where the Lord explains that he teaches us only that which we are ready to accept and understand. We are taught step-by-step as our faith and obedience increases. When we applied this principle to our children, we discovered that we needed to know what each child was capable of understanding, doing, and feeling at different ages and not require more than the child was capable of handling.

As I began making scripture study a part of my daily routine, I also began to examine how I kept the commandments. By changing my attitude, I was able to view homemaking and parenthood not as duties but as opportunities to become more like my own heavenly parents.

It isn’t always easy to keep this perspective when the children are quarreling and the stack of laundry is matched by the stack of dirty dishes. But these setbacks are easier to handle if my spirit isn’t suffering from malnutrition. Now when I give a Relief Society lesson, I can bear my testimony, with conviction, that there isn’t a question or problem we encounter that we can’t answer by searching the scriptures.