We’ve all heard countless stories of diligent Primary teachers who reached out to the missing children on their roles and involved them in church. But those stories don’t have to be ones you only read in the Ensign or hear in general conference. Those stories can be yours. Here are five tips and some ideas for helping your less-active Primary children and their families.
Note: Every family and situation is different. These explanations and tips are merely meant to help you begin thinking differently.
Remember the Situation
When children come to church regularly, it’s easier to get to know them and to learn to love their personalities. It’s also easier for those children to learn what is expected of them at church and practice reverence and make friends. When you have children in your class whose families are less-active or inactive, there’s a chance that those Sunday social skills will not be as developed or they may have a harder time being away from their parents, and you may need a little help to be patient. Here are a few ideas:
1. Learn about their family situation
There are a number of reasons why a family might be less active. Take time to find out about the family situation of your less-active students. This will not only help you when you’re teaching (adjusting examples involving siblings when they’re an only child or involving parents if they are from a single parent household) but it will also help you have more empathy. When I found out that the mother of two disruptive little girls under the age of 3 was pregnant with her third child and had chronic back issues, it helped me realize that disciplining the girls was difficult. She did her best, but even when they misbehaved, she loved them. And I grew to as well.
2. Be consistent
Children love consistency, and when you have specific rules or requirements for reverence and kindness, even the children who are not in class regularly will learn how to behave and interact with the other children and will enjoy their time at church more because of it.
3. Pray for charity
I know, I know. This sounds like a “well, duh” tip. But truthfully, this is one of the hardest tips for me sometimes because it requires me to be more humble and recognize the good qualities of a child who might be difficult. When coupled with getting to know the family, this tip can really help you tune in to what the child needs and how to help them enjoy their time at church.
Depending on how active their family is, some children may not know as much about gospel topics. There may be terms or people they are not familiar with, and that’s okay. But when they do come, make sure they are learning. Whether you think you may be getting through or not, they will share what you teach them, and if they know Jesus loves them, they can share that tiny testimony with their less-active parents in a variety of ways throughout the week.
1. Magnify your calling.
As a Primary teacher, you are not just a babysitter. It is your responsibility to help teach children to know their divine identity. Children are often brighter than we give them credit for, and they pick up on a lot. You can teach them many important skills, such as how to recognize the Spirit. There are many ways to help children feel the peace of the Spirit at church, however often they come. For example, a main theme of many of our nursery lessons, which our little toddlers have come to learn and now repeat to us unprompted, is “Jesus loves me.” Find a phrase that works for your class and help your children learn it so they can remember it when they need to.
2. Buy a classroom Book of Mormon.
If a child doesn’t have their own copy of the Book of Mormon and are not old enough for a phone with the digital version, consider buying an inexpensive copy that they can use while they are in class. Putting their name on it can make the book extra special and help them recognize the importance of the scriptures, even if they might not be regularly using them at home.
3. Learn and sing the Primary songs.
Music is a beautiful teaching tool, and Primary songs especially are designed to simultaneously entertain and teach. Adding appropriate actions and singing songs related to the lesson will help solidify messages of the gospel, which they will then remember throughout the weeks they are not at church.
Children who are not at church regularly might not have as many friends there and might need some extra attention to feel that they belong at church when they do come. There are many opportunities not only for you but for the other children in your class to include these children.
1. Ask a specific class member or members to sit by the less-active child when they come.
Not only does this help ensure that the less-active child has someone to sit by it also helps teach the other children in the class how to love and minister to those their age.
2. Invite the less-active child and their family to activities.
You don’t have to do this by yourself, either. You can invite other children in your class to invite them, or bring your entire class to drop off an invitation and a treat. You know what your less-active student and their family will appreciate or not, so tailor it in a way that will be meaningful but not intimidating or imposing.
3. Use names regularly.
Whether it’s asking them for an answer or simply appreciating good behavior, using a child’s name helps them know that you are aware of them and know who they are. It will also help the other children get to know it.
4. Don’t forget holidays.
Bringing holiday treats or a birthday treat is a natural way to reach out to a less-active child and get to know their family without making them feel singled out.
Unlike the families you may talk to at church and know everything about, sometimes it is difficult to know what home life is like for your less-active Primary child. By taking time to get to know their parents, who may or may not be as involved in neighborhood conversations, you can minister to less-active children as well as their family and help them feel welcome and valued at church.
1. Be in class early to greet children and parents.
Many times, especially if you work with younger Primary and nursery-age children, parents will come to drop their children off and pick them up again at the end. When they do, say “hi!” Introduce yourself. Taking time to understand the family circumstances of less-active children might also help you know how to better teach and help them make connections with the Savior as well as help parents feel more comfortable leaving their children in nursery and Primary when they come to church.
2. Give simple reports.
Another good way to connect with less-active parents is to give them a simple report about something good their child did during class that day when they do come. Maybe their little girl answered a question about Jesus or their little boy enjoyed learning a new Primary song. It’s a great way to start a conversation and make parents feel good. In my experience, parents think the world of their children, and when others can also see some of the good in their kids, it helps build a connection of trust and appreciation. You don’t have to do it every week, but consistency will help. Kindness and sincerity always make people feel more welcome.
3. Don’t stop at church.
When you see your Primary child with their parents at the grocery store, at school, or at a neighborhood activity, make an effort to say “hi” to the child, and conversation with the parents almost always naturally follows. Making these kinds of connections both inside and outside of church is a great way to help less-active families feel noticed and welcome when they do come.
Keep the Right Perspective
When it comes down to it, there is nothing different about helping less-active families than anyone else struggling with any part of their life. Love them. Love their family. Be a consistent and trustworthy friend. Involve them at church and outside of church. This whole “ministering” program we’ve been learning about, in my mind, is about one thing: love. How do we learn to love others? If we truly find joy and value in the gospel, it will show through as we become more naturally inclined to genuinely love and reach out to others. It isn’t about gathering people, it’s about helping spirits connect. If we can remember that our divine identity as a son or daughter of God is the same identity as those around us, reaching out, ministering, and loving will become less of something we think about and more of something we do.