'Give your hearts, capture their heads'

Parents who "give their hearts to their children will likely capture their heads also."

While the divine institution of the family seems to be absorbing its share of blows, based on social indicators such as rising crime and divorce rates, the Church continues at the fore in promulgating principles and programs to help strengthen families.This year has been designated International Year of the Family, and the First Presidency has endorsed that designation. (See Jan. 1 Church News.)

The Church News recently interviewed three members who have spent time working in leadership, counseling and academic roles with families - as well as with their own children. Terrance D. Olson is chairman of the BYU Department of Family Sciences and president of the BYU 6th Stake; Elaine Shaw Sorensen is associate dean of the BYU College of Nursing, author of Children's Stress and Coping: A Family Perspective, and education counselor in the Provo Utah Sharon East Stake Relief Society presidency; and Daniel K Judd is a family counselor, professor of ancient scripture at BYU and Young Men president in the Canyon View 3rd Ward, Orem Utah Canyon View Stake.

Following are extracts of their comments emphasizing several principles of successful parenting.

Terrance D. Olson:

Teenagers report that their parents are the major influence in their lives, but peer groups are right behind.

Parents teach moral and spiritual values informally more than formally. Parents who try to teach values formally but don't give their hearts to their children informally will find their children less likely to listen. Kneeling in prayer - praying genuinely with children - is a more powerful influence than giving them a lesson on prayer. Nevertheless, praying parents ought to be teaching lessons on prayer also, because their example helps influence their children when formal lessons are taught.

Parents who teach children with a story discover that this approach is more powerful than teaching them some abstract idea or having them memorize a definition.

Parents who give their hearts to their children are likely to capture their heads also. Parents can use reason and instruction in doctrine to illustrate and strengthen the moral example their children have already seen in their parents.

Parents have no guarantee how children will respond to a good example. Honest-hearted parents may be offering a good example to children who are looking in the other direction, but parents should never give up inviting and enticing children to do good.

Parents can influence their children greatly when they repent of any harshness toward the innocent - perhaps when a father loses his temper or a mother yells in frustration. Children learn from their parents' willingness to admit mistakes, to acknowledge them, and seem to have more forgiveness to give than parents are willing to seek.

Parents should give children opportunities to help them and others.

Elaine Shaw Sorensen:

Parents need to be sensitive to the unique perspective of each child. There is some evidence of what is called a culture of childhood. They have a perspective that's different than an adult's. Children have a viewpoint that's not just a miniature adult viewpoint, and it's helpful for parents to understand their view of the world. Some parents seem to understand that naturally and are able to connect with how their children feel. Others have more difficulty and have to work harder at it.

Families will experience different types of stress within and outside their households. In major trauma, most families have resources that are brought together to help overcome the immediate problem. But it's often life's daily stresses that add up, related or unrelated to a major event.

True empathy is one of a parent's greatest strengths. Empathy is built through listening with understanding, connecting with the unique perspectives of children.

Family activities - planned and organized, along with enjoyable spontaneous activities - can help relieve family stress and strengthen relationships. Families need to set aside and protect time to be together.

Daniel K Judd:

Parents sometimes sell short revelatory solutions to their parenting challenges while instead focusing on cognitive, behavioral or other approaches and techniques. The Lord cares about everyone's challenges, as small as they might seem, and wants to help us.

Parents who really give their hearts to their children tend to have more success than when they are trying to manipulate their behavior.

Parents might sometimes find easy solutions in giving behavioral rewards, but research shows that the focus of children in these circumstances is often

on the reward itself and not the intrinsic joy of positive behavior or accomplishment.

Parents should not compare children. I think that we have to recognize each child as an individual with his or her own strengths and weaknesses, and that each has a particular mission that the Lord would have him or her accomplish. Parents can help them learn that mission and be true to it. This relates to talents and abilities, among other things.

Parents can effectively seek direction as to what the Lord would have them do as parents to help their children fulfill their purposes in life.

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