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You remember the fear that was created when 9/11 happened. The terrorists attacks were shown over and over, and even very young children couldn't help seeing some of the horror and were scared it might happen to them and their loved ones. Today there is another attack on the hearts and minds of kids that is also bringing fear, but of a different nature. When all they see on TV news is gloom and doom, and the adults in their lives talk about it continually, it takes a heavy toll on their feelings of security and well being.
We can't ignore what is happening to the economy and the values we cherish, but we can control how we talk about it with our children and how much they are exposed to it, at least in our homes. Parents are the most powerful influence in helping a child deal with hard, and sometimes frightening, times. If you go around with long faces, continually talking in negative terms about the failing stock market, the possibility, or the reality, of losing your job or home, the lack of trust you have in government leaders, etc, that's like kicking the foundation out from under your child's security base. They don't have the maturity to deal with it, even teens don't. That doesn't mean they can't know about it, they just need it to be addressed with a positive we-can-make-it-through-this attitude, without it being continually in their faces.
This last General Conference showed us clearly how to do that. Did you notice how upbeat and full of hope the talks were, even as they addressed serious issues? The songs were happy and inspiring, one being “You Can Make the Pathway Bright”(hymn #228), encouraging us to have “sunshine in your heart today.” Not a bad song to go around the house singing these days.
So what can parents do?
We have a few suggestions that may be helpful as you navigate your families through these stressful times. First of all, husbands and wives need to have a serious family council with each other, without the kids in earshot. Talk about the issues and make a plan. It's important for you both to be on the same page, so kids won't be getting split messages. If you are a single parent, then make your own plan so you're not caught off guard. All parents need to pray and seek the Lord's guidance as you plan your approach to dealing with the challenges your family is facing.
Here are some simple ideas to consider. We hope you will look at these time-tested principles with new eyes as they relate to the struggles families face today. Even though you may be doing them sometimes, let this serve as a reminder to be more determined than ever to do them regularly. Sometimes the pressures of life move in on us and we fail to do what our Church leaders have promised will work.
1. Have daily family prayer . Send your children out the door each morning with prayer. When your children hear you praying for their safety and that they'll be guided to make good choices throughout the day, it helps them immensely. The Lord can then put into their minds the very things that will bring about the answers to the prayers. It helps them feel safe and loved by you and their Heavenly Father. When they hear their father and mother praying for help in the work they are doing, it comforts them to know that their parents will have the Lord's help with them, too.
In an article titled “The Blessings of Family Prayer” Ensign Feb. 1991, p.2, President Gordon B. Hinckley said: “I submit that a return to the old pattern of prayer, family prayer in the homes of the people, is one of the basic medications that would check the dread disease that is eroding the character of our society. . . . I give you my testimony that if you sincerely apply family prayer, you will not go away unrewarded. The changes may not be readily apparent. They may be extremely subtle. But they will be real, for God “is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Heb. 11:6.)
Teach your children to pray for their own needs and for the needs of others. When you show concern for others it takes your thoughts away from your own fears and problems. Praying for others is a form of service, and service is healing. President Thomas S. Monson shared the following fun story that makes this point.
"When our oldest son was about three, he would kneel with his mother and me in our evening prayer. I was serving as the bishop of the ward at the time, and a lovely lady in the ward, Margaret Lister, lay perilously ill with cancer. Each night we would pray for Sister Lister. One evening our tiny son offered the prayer and confused the words of the prayer with a story from a nursery book. He began: 'Heavenly Father, please bless Sister Lister, Henny Penny, Chicken Little , Turkey Lurkey, and all the little folks.' We held back the smiles that evening. Later we were humbled as Margaret Lister sustained a complete recovery. We do not belittle the prayer of a child. After all, our children have more recently been with our Heavenly Father than have we."
(President Thomas S. Monson, Ensign, October 1999, page 2.)
That brings up the point that it's good for children to be taught to pray for their father, that he will be helped at his work and that their mother will be guided in her many tasks. The faith of a child is powerful, so help them pray for family needs on their level of understanding. And teach them to thank the Lord for good parents who work hard. This will create an appreciation within them. It can be done simply by praying, “Please bless Dad as he works hard for our family.” Or “Thank you for Mom and all the hard work she does for our family.” They will learn by what they hear you praying for.
2. Eat dinner together. If you're not already doing it, decide to have dinner together every day. It's amazing the security this creates in a child's life, no matter the age. If you have teens whose schedules don't allow it every day, then make it up with a breakfast together, even if it's really early.
Whenever the meal may be, enjoy the time around the table talking about their activities, friends, and school. Keep it light and without criticism. Let them ask questions that may be concerning them. Keep your remarks positive. It's not a time for scolding. When dinner time is enjoyable the results will be far reaching.
Dr. William J. Doherty, a family therapist, educator and researcher recently spoke at a BYU symposium. He said, “Family time and meals together are two factors that can help rescue parents and children from the ‘toxic combination' of cultures geared toward individuality, competition, super-sized consumerism and ‘kids-are-fragile' therapeutic thinking.” He also cited national and multinational studies that show “family meal time is a strong predictor of academic and psychological adjustment in children in teens — better than time in school, sports or cultural arts, and helping to decrease future involvement in alcohol, drugs, promiscuity, depression and eating disorders.”
On certain days let the kids help plan the meals. When they're in on the planning and the preparing, they're more likely to enjoy the meal. They then have a vested interest.