Families, communities, and nations are strengthened when children are taught to become self-reliant. As I have written previously, parents are commanded to teach the gospel of Jesus Christ to their children. One of the commandments is to be self-reliant.
I narrowed my focus to three different areas of self-reliance: emotional, temporal, and spiritual. Even though I am no expert in teaching children or self-reliance, I realize that these three areas overlap a lot and reinforce each other.
Even though I will not share the personal experiences here that I shared with my ward family, I want to share some ideas on how to teach self-reliance in these three areas, starting with emotional self-reliance and then moving on to temporal self-reliance and spiritual self-reliance.
1. In order for children to become self-reliant emotionally, they must know that they are loved unconditionally by their parents. They need to know that their parents will continue to love them no matter what the child says or does. They need to know that parents do not stop loving their child simply because the child says or does mean or hateful things. Even though the parent may be hurt, disappointed, or angry, they will continue to love their child.
2. In order for children to become self-reliant emotionally, they need to see the bigger picture. Along with knowing that they are loved unconditionally, children need to know that many people love them and are concerned about them besides the people in their same household. They need to develop personal relationships with their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.
3. In order for children to become self-reliant emotionally, they need positive experiences more than they need every new gadget. Parents can get more bang from their buck by sharing special experiences with their children. An example: Instead of spending all the Christmas money on gadgets, parents should spend some of the money on special experiences. These experiences could include a skiing trip or the experience of watching “Nutcracker.” A special birthday experience could include a special date with only Dad and Mom or a trip to Lego Land with Mom.
4. In order for children to become self-reliant temporally, they need to learn the importance of work and how to work. They need to learn the skills necessary to complete many tasks. They also need to learn to work well with other people. They can learn the importance of work and working with other people as the family works together to keep the house clean or to fix dinner and clean up afterwards. Children can also learn to be consistent in making their bed and picking up their room every day.
5. In order for children to become self-reliant temporally, they need to know the value of education and advanced training. I impressed on my children from the time that they started school that education was important. I attended every PTA meeting and every parent-teacher conference. I made sure that they did their homework and completed assignments. I expected my children to bring home good grades because I knew they had the ability to do so. I drilled into their heads the idea that they needed to attend college and that they would need to pay for their expenses either through scholarships or jobs. Now all of my children have college degrees with most of them holding advanced degrees.
6. In order for children to become self-reliant spiritually they must know that they are children of God and that He watches over them. We must teach them that Heavenly Father knows them by name, loves them, and wants them to come back to His presence to live with Him forever; that He sent Jesus Christ to atone for our sins and to make it possible for us to return; that He sends the Holy Ghost to help us choose the right. It is critical for each child to develop this personal spiritual experience with God. The foundation for doing so is prayer and scripture study, and the best way to teach it is by example. However, this example does not always come from a parent.
7. In order for children to become self-reliant spiritually they must be taught the importance of prayer and how to pray. I do not know how old I was when I became aware that my older sister was kneeling in prayer each night before she climbed into bed. I had been taught about prayer, but the teaching was just a theory until I watched my sister praying every single night. Somehow, her example moved me to action, and I began praying also. I cannot get through a day or get into bed without prayer.
8. In order for children to become self-reliant spiritually they must be taught how to find answers to their problems through studying the scriptures. We teach scripture study by precept, example, and sometimes with bribes. Children must see their parents – or other people that they admire – studying the scriptures in order to understand the importance of doing so.
9. In order for children to become self-reliant spiritually they must be taught correct doctrine. As we teach light and truth to our children we must be careful to keep the doctrine pure. We must help our children to base their testimonies on truth rather than legend or half-truths; otherwise, they will fall away when the going gets too tough. Knowing true doctrine will not only help our children to become spiritually self-reliant, but it will also improve their behavior. I love this quote by President Boyd K. Packer:
“True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior. The study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior. … That is why we stress so forcefully the study of the doctrines of the gospel” Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. (“Little Children,” Ensign, Nov. 1986, 17)
To summarize: Becoming self-reliant has many facets, and I have touched on only a few of them. We can help our children to become emotionally self-reliant by making sure that they understand and feel unconditional love, know that they are part of a big family, and enjoy enriching experiences with loved ones. We can help them development temporal self-reliance by teaching them how to work and the value of education. We can help them become spiritually self-reliant by teaching them to communicate with Heavenly Father, to study the scriptures, and to understand correct doctrine.
Emotional, temporal, and spiritual self-reliance all go together in one eternal round. When we build a child in one area, it helps them in another. We cannot go wrong if we love them enough to teach them how to become self-reliant. A child that is taught to be self-reliant will grow into a self-reliant adult and strengthen their own family, community, and nation.