“Full potential” can mean many things. Ultimately, it means attaining exaltation, thus becoming Gods. On a more immediate basis, “full potential” for youth can mean, among other things, earnestly striving to live the gospel, having the beginnings of their own testimony, doing reasonably well in school, preparing for missions, serving others, and basically being a good influence on other youth among other things. The question is what can parents do to have a better chance of helping their children attain this potential?
In Proverbs 22:6, parents are taught:
“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”
There are many key ingredients in parenting that can help bring about the fulfilment of this verse. Here are five important things parents can do to help their children reach their potential:
1. Be consistent in living the gospel.
Consistently living the gospel in daily life is one thing that you can do to inspire your children to reach their full potential. For example, youth learn about the importance of personal and family scripture reading, personal and family prayer, church attendance, honesty, clean language, and so forth in church and seminary. When you consistently lead out in these essential aspects of living the gospel in your personal and family life, your youth know that you believe the gospel and usually tend to believe it themselves. It’s just that simple!
On the other hand, children are quick to spot hypocrisy. Thus, when children who have been taught the gospel see their parents choose to occasionally miss church in favor of a worldly activity, they receive the clear, though unintended message that “Church is important but not that important.” The same message is given when family prayer, scripture reading, family home evening night, and other religious activities, are seldom practiced in a family. If parents claim to believe the gospel but don’t strive to live it consistently, their observant children learn a damaging and negative message.
2. Strive to make home a pleasant, relaxed place.
Some youth see living the gospel as a drab lifestyle, where strict rules and gospel living stifle enjoyment and make them feel like God and their parents are constantly scrutinizing them to see if they are complying with a long list of requirements.
When I was student teaching seminary at the beginning of my CES career, I taught what I thought was a quite successful lesson on exaltation in the celestial kingdom with happy families who are together forever. With about five minutes to go before the bell, one of my students at the back of the class raised his hand and loudly proclaimed, “I don’t want to be a god!”
Somewhat startled, I asked, “Why not?”
He replied, “Because I don’t want to wear a black suit, a stiff white shirt, and tie all day and not have any fun!”
I asked, “Is that how you picture heaven?”
He said, “Yes!”
Then I told him how that would not be heaven for me either. A home where parents enjoy each other’s company and where children are routinely engaged in joking and laughing as well as serious discussion instills in youth a desire to have the gospel as an integral part of their lives.
My wife has been a wonderful example of this throughout our married life. Her humor and laughter has filled our home and made it obvious that the gospel lifestyle is the happiest one. President Heber C. Kimball once said, “I am perfectly satisfied that my Father and my God is a cheerful, pleasant, lively, and good-natured Being” (Journal of Discourses, 4:222).
3. Help your children feel valued and capable.
Parents have the ability to reassure their children of their value and capabilities. In doing so, their youth can more readily feel and accept that they are indeed “children of God” and of infinite worth (D&C 18:10). This, in turn, goes a long way toward internal ownership of the gospel and a desire to reach their full potential.
Perhaps you’ve noticed that young children, including toddlers, love to help. No doubt you have also seen through personal experience that when they help, it takes much longer than when you do it yourself, and the mess is much greater. Nevertheless, letting them help when they are young is one of the simplest and most effective things you can do to help insure that your children, grow up to have reasonably secure feelings about their place in the gospel.
My wife believed strongly in this philosophy—including tolerating the extra messes—as part of her strategy of raising our children when they were young. Consequently, several of our children, including some of our sons, became known as “the best cookie makers on Third North” where we lived (especially chocolate chip cookies and peanut butter cookies).
In another area, I found that my little ones were especially anxious to help me pour new oil into the car engine as part of oil and filter changes. I soon found that as they helped, more oil ended up on the engine than in it, but still wanting the kids to help, I soon made a large funnel out of a four-quart oil container. With the funnel in place, my small children could even accidentally drop the whole quart bottle of oil while holding it over the engine and get the oil inside. That way, I could compliment them no matter what.
Of course, we know we are not dealing with utopia. Life is not an ongoing dose of euphoria. All children are not the same. Some things work for some children but not for others. But, when we strive to apply these basic principles as we raise our families, the blessings of heaven combine to make our efforts more successful. Remember, Heavenly Father is very interested in our success as parents, since we are raising and teaching His children.
4. Chat about the creations of God with your children.
While this may seem too simple a way to help your children achieve their full potential, it is often the simplest things that have the greatest impact on the feelings and self-image of our youth. Casual talks about the Creator generally need to start when our children are very young. Consider, for example, a very young child walking past some flowers. Often, young children naturally walk over to flowers and stoop down to examine them more closely. As they do so, you can say, “Aren’t you glad Jesus made such pretty flowers!” Or, perhaps, “Did you know that these are Heavenly Father’s love notes to us! Look around, can you see some more of His little letters to us to tell us that He loves us?” It is significant to note that when you do this, you are also bearing your testimony to your children that you believe in God and the Church.
When you make it a point to have such conversations with your children when they are young, you are preparing their minds to see the hand of God in all His creations. In a significant way, it can create a beautiful bond between them and Him that, even if it is only a subconscious connection, can wield a powerful influence in how they view their relationship with God and His church.
5. Actively teach your children the gospel, formally and informally.
It is not enough to have your children learn the gospel at church and in seminary. Especially now, in the last days, the competition for their attention, indeed, for their souls, is extreme. Therefore, parents must be ever-conscious of opportunities to teach the gospel, including the plan of salvation, in their homes. In our home, one of the best times for informally teaching the gospel has been around the dinner table, especially after church. Asking the children what they learned in church is a good way to begin a conversation. Even now, with our own children grown, it is still quite common, especially when they join us for Sunday dinner, for one of them to bring up a question they have on a gospel subject.
The Lord gave clear instructions to parents when He said:
“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. . . .
“And they shall also teach their children to pray, and to walk uprightly before the Lord.” (D&C 68:25, 28)
Near the end of their 40 years in the wilderness, Moses gave wonderful counsel to the parents among the children of Israel about teaching the commandments and principles of the gospel to their children. In Deuteronomy 6:7, he taught:
“And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.”
This is a huge clue as to how to succeed as parents in helping our youth achieve their full potential.
The Lord has given parents many tools for strengthening their children in the gospel and all aspects of their lives. Helping youth reach their full potential, involves helping them realize that:
1. Consistency in living the gospel is vital for all aspects of living.
2. Heaven will be a pleasant place to live eternally.
3. Their personal worth exceeds their greatest imagination.
4. They can have their own feelings of closeness to God.
5. They have a place in the plan of salvation.
Each of these concepts can have a significant influence on helping youth to ultimately reach or want to reach their full potential and can become a pleasant, ever-present, part of life as your children grow up in your home.
Lead image from Getty Images.
For more insights and suggestions on helping your teenagers become the best version of themselves, check out David J. Ridges’s new book, The Red Porsche (You’re Worth It) and Other Topics for LDS Youth, available at Deseret Book stores and deseretbook.com.