Latter-day Saint Life

Teaching our children to be self-reliant learners


One of the greatest principles the Church teaches us is to be more self-reliant, which includes increasing our education in all areas of life. Once we learn for ourselves, however, we are also responsible for teaching our children. We must give our children a strong foundation for life. What children learn early in life really directs how they deal with the obstacles later on, and we are a great force in helping our children choose strong principles.

Here are three basic principles we can use to help our children to love, learn, and progress in their path toward self-reliance, when it’s easy and especially in hard times. 

Set the example

This principle is one we often hear over again. Being an example is repeated in our learning because every action and word we use either influences our children for good or bad. If we want our children to learn to be self-reliant learners, we need to give them an example of what self-reliant learning looks like. Do your children know that you are studying the scriptures on your own? Do you ask questions and seek answers? 

Part of helping your children become self-reliant learners is to teach them these four questions and principles to consider before making decisions:

  1. How am I feeling? Have them ask themselves this question before reacting to a situation.
  2. Why am I feeling that way? Teach them that they don’t have to share why, but it is good for them to recognize what is causing their feelings.
  3. Know that others see us differently. When confronted with a situation or question, it is good for children to know that they can learn by trying to see their actions from another’s point of view.
  4. Know that God knows more about ourselves than anyone. This means they can ask Him for help with anything they are struggling with.


The greatest way to teach children is to listen to them. It helps you learn about what they are worried about, things they are struggling with, and how you can help them become more self-reliant.

Use these reminders when communicating with anyone, especially your children. 

  1. Do not prepare a counter argument or advice while others are sharing.
  2. Do not interrogate or cause them to be defensive.
  3. Do not order or demand.
  4. Do not attack or criticize.
  5. Do not sidestep a question.

That may sound like a long list of "don’t do’s," yet that’s because we are more effective using positive reinforcement, especially in teaching and setting the example. Our children are more willing to listen to us if we use positive tactics.

If a child comes to you with a problem, concern or a question about something gospel-related, here are some things to keep in mind: 

  1. When children come to you visibly upset, state what you see. “I see you are upset.”
  2. Ask them to share with you why they are upset. This is where you just listen, even if you don’t like what you hear.
  3. Repeat in your own words to them what you understand they are saying or feeling.
  4. Use empathy phrases such as, “I am sorry all of this happened.”
  5. Ask them what you can do to help. Don’t take it over and fix it for them. This is a good time for them to learn to problem solve. If necessary, ask them if they need a few ideas on how to over come this. It is important to let them ask you for help and tell you exactly what you can do. If they ask you to do it for them, say “I am sorry I can’t do that. Is there something else I can do to help?” Children need to be self-reliant too. This is how they learn to problem solve.
  6. After they share what they want help with, you may ask to share your ideas or feelings. If they feel understood, they are more willing to be taught. Again, do this kindly and with none of the previous “don’ts.”

This process can be difficult at first and we as parents aren’t perfect, yet with continual practice of these tactics you can build a strong connection with your children that will allow them to feel safe coming to you with questions or problems as they continue to learn and grow.

Provide opportunities for independence

The following are a few helpful techniques in teaching self-reliance skills to your children—skills they can apply to both gospel learning and life. 

  1. Do the principle or action you want to teach them for them while they are watching. For example, show them how to find an answer to their questions using the scriptures.
  2. Do the action with them. Both hands on.
  3. Observe while they are doing it.
  4. Let them do it on their own.
  5. Have them teach someone else what they just learned.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published on in January 2019.

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