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Role of Children

Children, like adults, express their beliefs and feelings about the gospel of Jesus Christ during monthly testimony meetings (Orem, Utah, 1982). Courtesy Floyd Holdman.

by Michaelene P. Grassli

Latter-day Saints believe that children are spirit sons and daughters of God who have come to earth with their own divine inheritances and identities. Parents, with the support of the Church, are responsible for nurturing the divine and righteous attributes of their children and for helping them develop love for God and fellow beings. Through love and prayerful guidance, parents can help children learn that they have a potential for greatness and goodness, and that life on earth has purpose and eternal consequences. Parents and children can establish family bonds that may endure forever (see Marriage: Eternal Marriage).

God has commanded parents to teach their children "to understand the doctrine of repentance, faith in Christ the son of the living God, and of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost"; they are also to "teach their children to pray, and to walk uprightly before the Lord" (D&C 68:25, 28). Childhood is a period of preparation and practice in which children must learn to distinguish good from evil, so that when they reach the age of accountability and are baptized (usually at eight years), they will be ready to exercise their agency wisely and assume the responsibilities of membership in the Church. Children should learn to serve God and other people, and should prepare for responsibilities they will have as adults.

The Church teaches that children learn gospel values, doctrines, and behavioral applications most effectively in the home. They learn at a very young age to pray individually and as part of the family. In many homes during family prayer, families kneel together while one member prays, and small children take their turn with the help of their parents. In addition to regular individual and family prayers and blessings on the food at each meal, children learn that they can pray whenever they want to express gratitude or need divine help. They can receive priesthood blessings from their fathers or home teachers when they need inspirational help or guidance.

Latter-day Saints are encouraged to help their children read and study the scriptures daily, and many do this as a family activity at a specified time each day. LDS families are also counseled to hold a Family Home Evening once each week. All family members, including young children, can be given opportunities to conduct these meetings, prepare and present lessons, lead music, read scriptures, answer questions, offer prayers, and provide refreshments. Within this framework of support and cooperation, children take part in making decisions and solving family problems, and they learn to internalize values as they develop autonomy, initiative, and competence. LDS children also learn the gospel in less formal settings as families work, play, and eat together. These activities provide occasions to teach gospel values and create bonds of trust.

Through its programs the Church supports the parents and the home. It provides training, materials, and other adult role models for children, thereby reinforcing gospel principles taught by the family. Children participate with their families during weekly worship services called Sacrament meetings, at which they may partake of the Sacrament, participate in congregational singing, and give as well as listen to gospel-related talks. During the monthly fast and testimony meeting, members, including children, may bear individual testimony to the ward congregation.

Primary is an organized program of religious instruction and activity in the Church for children ages eighteen months to twelve years. Its purpose is to teach children the gospel of Jesus Christ and help them learn to live it. Participating in Primary helps children prepare for baptism and other ordinances.

In Primary, held each Sunday, children develop skills and gain competence in communication, leadership, gospel scholarship, and social relationships through many gospel-centered activities. They offer prayers, recite scriptures, and give gospel-related talks. They sing songs written specifically for children, listen to stories, and participate in activities such as dramatizations, role plays, and games. In smaller age-grouped classes, they receive scripturally based lessons designed for their level of understanding. Primary leaders and teachers encourage the children to study and learn the Articles of Faith. Each year the Primary children prepare a Sacrament meeting presentation in which they share with the congregation the scriptural concepts they have studied.

Periodic weekday activities help children apply the gospel principles they learn on Sunday and encourage them to interact informally with their peers and leaders. The Primary sponsors quarterly activity days for all children that provide wholesome fun by involving them in physical, creative, cultural, and service activities. Ten- and eleven-year-old girls and boys participate in achievement days twice a month during which they set goals and are recognized as they learn skills in hospitality, arts and crafts, sports and physical fitness, health and personal grooming, outdoor fun and skills, service and citizenship, family skills, and safety and emergency preparedness. In some areas, boys participate in Church-sponsored scouting programs for their achievement day activities.

The Church provides resources specifically designed to teach children. Age-appropriate scripture-based lesson manuals, a children's songbook, teaching guides, and training videos are available for leaders and teachers. The friend, a monthly magazine written specifically for children, is available through subscription in most English-speaking countries. Excerpts are translated and compiled in international magazines for children living in other parts of the world.

[See also Caring for the Souls of Children by President Patricia Pinegar; Fatherhood; Motherhood; Basic Beliefs home page; Teachings About the Family home page.]

Bibliography

Family Guidebook. Salt Lake City, 1980.

Primary Handbook. Salt Lake City, 1985.

Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 1, Children, Role of

Copyright 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company

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