This month the focus for Establish a House will be teaching children morality in an increasingly immoral world. What can we do as parents to teach our children to stand strong when they are on their own? I am excited to introduce the guest writers that have volunteered their wisdom and experiences to share with us. They come from a variety of backgrounds and faiths but we all have the same goal – raising children with strong moral values and convictions.
Today’s guest writer is Carin who blogs at Building Eternity. Carin graduated from Brigham Young University in Family Science with a minor in Psychology and dreams of graduate school in Marriage and Family Therapy. Instead she uses her education on a daily basis learning from experience and prayer what makes a great marriage and a happy family, parenting 8 sons and one beautiful daughter. She and her husband Drew have been married for 23 years and currently reside in California. “Life at our house is real. We have plenty of failures and any success must be attributed to doing our very best to live the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ, especially those enumerated in The Family: A Proclamation to the World.”
Each year as our children grow, their bodies get bigger, their physical abilities increase and their thinking expands. It all happens without any effort on our part—other than making sure they are fed, they sleep, and hygiene issues are met. Physical and cognitive development are fairly linear and similar for most people across a given spectrum. Moral development, however, does not happen this way.
|Photo credit: ww2.dietitians.ca|
(Moral development, really, is spiritual development. It is learning about others, ourselves, Diety, and the world and our relationships to all of those people and how to treat them properly. Even though many of us have different views of Diety, we can all agree on basic levels of kindness, honesty, integrity, etc… As we have a more shared perspective of moral laws or doctrine, our discussion of proper moral behavior can be more complete. For this discussion, I will be speaking from the doctrines and perspective of the Church of Jesus-Christ of Latter-Day Saints, though the principles of teaching morals can be applied universally.)
Moral development must be taught, practiced, and internalized. Arguing parties left to themselves, will not ‘just figure out’ how to treat each other better. This is why you can run into people so much older than you and wonder how come they are still acting like a three-year-old. If they have not been taught, or internalized those values, they will continue to behave at a lower level of moral development.
This is where the doctrine comes in and why we are taught:
….all thy children shall be taught of the Lord (3rd Nephi 22:13)
….teach the principles of my gospel (D&C 42:12)
….teach their children to pray and to walk uprightly (D&C 68:68)
….teach one another the doctrine (D&C 88:77)
….their children were taught to read and write (Moses 6:6)
…faith was taught unto the children of men (Moses 6:23)
…thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children
….train up a child in the way he should go (Proverbs 22:6)
…teach them to observe all things (Matt 28:20)
…I was taught somewhat in the learning of my father (1st Nephi 1:1
Teaching our children the doctrines of the gospel and how to treat one another is a commandment. In fact, those of us who chose not to teach our children, the Lord addresses in D&C 68:25:
And again, inasmuch as parents have children in Zion, or in any of her stakes which are organized, that teach them not 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 by the laying on of the hands, when eight years old, the sin be upon the heads of the parents.
But how do we teach something we do not know? Therefore, we must do as the scriptures direct in D&C 11:21, “Seek not to declare my word, but first seek to obtain my word…” Once we know what the Lord’s word is, through the prophets and the scriptures, then we must seek to practice this knowledge—for how else can we testify of the truths to our children, so the Holy Ghost can carry the power of our testimony into the hearts of our children?? (2nd Nephi 33:1) This is where the internalization comes in. As we share this testimony, our hearts are changed also.
These are the keys, in a nutshell:
1. Know the doctrine (taught to you).
2. Live the doctrine (practiced by you).
3. Teach the doctrine (taught to others).
4. Testify of the doctrine (allow internalization).
How do we help our children learn moral behavior? Modeling works best in moral learning. Here is an example:
My 12-year-old and 8-year-old were in the kitchen quarrelling. I don’t remember what the issue was and it really doesn’t matter. Voices were raised, feelings were hurt and the situation was escalating.
Time for intervention. You have all been there—as soon as you step in, each wants to share their grievance and demands (or hopes for) your sanction. I suggest that we discuss the problem (which of course, is really what has been happening, but not at the level that is conducive to happiness). I ask them to look at each other. [GLARES] I ask the 8-year-old to please tell his sister that when she does [this] behavior, it hurts his feelings. He just glares at her. I ask the 12-year-old to please explain to her brother that she was following her instructions. She just glares at him.
I run the entire conversation for them, standing behind each of them as I speak for them. “Look, the conversation should go like this:
8-year-old: Sister, it really hurts my feelings when you [do this].
12-year-old: I wasn’t trying to hurt your feelings. Mom asked me to [do this] and you weren’t doing what you were suppose to!
8-yr-old: Well I really wish you would have handled it like [this]. You should have told me ‘Mom said,….’
12-yr-old: Well, I am sorry. Next time I will handle it like [this]. Is that OK? I am sorry your feelings were hurt.
8-yr-old: It’s OK. I love you.
12-yr-old: I love you too.
(I hug myself)
By this time, they are both laughing at me. I kind of push them together and said, “Now you two do it,” which they did. With these two I could walk away and they would work out their relationship after a short intervention. With other groups, I may have to stay and mediate the entire conversation so tempers don’t continue to percolate.
Time for an analogy. Peaches. My children and I were canning peaches one day. At the time, they were all 11 and under so it was a lot of work, but we were enjoying each other’s company. Any of you who have ever canned or frozen fruit or vegetables know that some produce looks bad, but is fine to eat, some looks fine, but is moldy on the inside, etc… Each piece has to be attended to individually and each piece is unique. It occurred to me that the fruit/vegetables are like people. We are each unique. Some of us are sweeter than others. Most have to have some parts removed in order to be saved, preserved, and added to the harvest. Our children need to be tended to individually, as well. They are not one-size-fits-all.
One of my children seems to need to learn through his experience. At about age 13, we were struggling with him telling me he would take care of specific assignments and then not following through. This went on for several weeks. I talked to him many times to no avail. I prayed about my frustrations and how to communicate this idea to this child. Then one day while washing the dishes, I had this thought, “Don’t you do things for him that he counts on? What if you didn’t do them?” Hmmmm……what if I didn’t?!
Wednesday was a big youth activity at the park. My son would need me to drive him over there. He was meticulous about arriving on time. The truth was so was I. This day would have to be different.
Our son reminded me that it was time to leave. I told him to get in the car and I would be right there. I changed the baby’s diaper, found a sweatshirt, put my shoes on s-l-o-w-l-y. My irritated son came in to find out what was taking so long. ‘Come on, Mom!’ “I’m coming,” I assured him.
I got into the car and asked again where we were going. OK. OK. I decided to stop for gas. My son was not happy, but was still patient. We left the gas station. I decided on another errand and left my son in the car to watch the baby while I ran into the store (another 15 minutes). By now, my son was seething.
“MOM! I am LATE!”
“Oh! Did you need to get to the park? What time were you suppose to be there?”
He was about ½ an hour late. As we arrived, I asked if he was frustrated and angry with me. He didn’t need to answer. I could see it all over his face. I reminded him that I counted on him at home to do the things I have asked and he has agreed to, just like he counts on me to some things for him. We need to rely on each other and fulfill our obligations to one another. He was mad, but he got the message. Things at home improved.
|(Copyright: KarenLarsen photography, used with permission)|
Sometimes we will need help teaching different children specific lessons. Those lessons will usually take extra planning and prayer. One of the prayers of my heart is that I will see the weeds of sin growing in the lives of my children. I know from my gardening experience weeds are easiest to remove when they are young and small. If sin can be eliminated at that point, it will never take root, or bear seed. That is when sin needs to be removed.
Just to recap:
- Moral/spiritual development has to be taught. It will not ‘just happen’ because a person grows older.
- We cannot teach what we do not know, therefore we have a continuing need to learn and grow and develop.
- Moral development needs to be practiced—over and over and over again—in order to be internalized and become a part of one’s character.
- Our children are individuals with agency. Our efforts to teach them should reflect their unique personalities and learning styles.
- We cannot force development, we have to nurture development. (Forcing development actually violates one of the necessary principles for development—agency.)
- Internalization of moral principles is a choice, thus “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” (D&C 121:41).
- We will need Heaven’s help in raising Heaven’s child. By being obedient to the commandments and studying the doctrines we will be more capable of recognizing the revelation necessary to teach our children and ourselves how to become more like the Savior.
Thanks so much Carin! I especially love how you pointed out that we cannot teach what we do not know. If we want our children to live moral lives we need to be living moral lives ourselves.
What are your thoughts? How do you teach morality to your children? Do you have set lessons or is it in the day-to-day living where they are taught?