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KRISTEN: First let’s talk about why scripture study matters: During the late 20th century the Church conducted a study on young men that looked into what determined whether these boys became men who received the Melchizedek priesthood, served missions, received temple endowments, and eventually married in the temple. For simplicity’s sake we’ll say that, spiritually speaking, they “launched successfully” into the real world.
The Church then interviewed hundreds of young men to try to discover if there were any common factors among those who had “launched successfully.” (See the book Raising Up a Family to the Lord by Elder Gene R. Cook)
There were two, surprisingly simple common factors among those young men who “launched successfully”. They were:
#1- Personal Scripture Study
#2- Personal Prayer
More than going to EFY, more than attending Church every week, more than getting an Eagle Scout award, it mattered if these boys had personal experiences with the Lord through their own study and prayer!
Scripture study matters!
CALI: Then comes the follow-up question of every Latter-day Saint mother in the world: “But how do I get my son/daughter to read the scriptures and pray on their own?”
Does it require constant nagging?
Not at all.
In fact, I’m a pretty firm believer that if nagging gets involved then that’s not going to help anyone’s relationship with anything or anyone.
The Church study found the answer to this question as well.
There were three things that determined whether these young men would study and pray on their own:
#1 – Family Prayer
#2- Family Scripture Study & FHE
#3- Family Agreement on Values
KRISTEN: Yes, and this quote from Elder Gene R. Cook summarizes all of that: “If we want our children to pray, we must show them by example through family prayer. If we want our children to read the scriptures, they need to see the scriptures being read in the family. The factor that has the greatest effect on private religious behavior is family worship. . . .” (And all of this information is available in a free workbook I created that I’ll link below.)
CALI: So how do we make these three things happen: family prayer, family scripture study, and Family Home Evening?
Let’s dive into the first one– family prayer:
KRISTEN: Yes! I love all of those tips! Something that my family learned from David Bowman (who was a guest on the show before Cali joined me!) is the power of “because” prayers.
Our family prayers often become repetitive. I could probably tell you exactly what my kids will say in their prayers before they actually say them. Which is why I loved David Bowman’s suggestion to add the word “because” to the end of each sentence. So for example, “Dear Heavenly Father we’re so thankful for this day because ____________” and then you fill in the blank. It has been such a powerful way to help us really think about what we’re saying in our prayers and why we’re saying it.
CALI: Oh I love that! Okay, now let’s move on to the second thing we need to do in our families and that is SCRIPTURE STUDY!
There are so many things that we sometimes approach as parents where we want our kids to do something and kind of step into that authority role of just making them do it. But my overall tip is to think of this from your kids perspective. They don’t know that they are supposed to love opening a book and reading words that they don’t really understand (8th grade reading level). So what are things you could try doing to create understanding, empathy for when they don’t want to read, creativity, excitement, and make it a positive family experience where love is their main emotion as much as possible.
Tip 1: Give them context before! Reading comprehension is ROUGH! For anyone. So spending just a minute recapping where you are in the scriptures before you start reading or even telling the story beforehand gets everyone’s mind engaged. And then as you read, you stop and say “oh did you catch that? The Lord was telling Joseph his answer right there!” If you have older kids, they can help with recapping and creating context for stories too, and it’s especially fun to frame it as “helping out the younger kids” so that they feel they are contributing instead of just being told to do something.
Tip 2: Make it a conversation or learning opportunity of some kind. I’m sure you’ve experience plenty of family scripture study times where you’ve opened scriptures, read your verses, closed them, and then moved onto family prayer or whatever is next. Making the scriptures come alive and be connected means turning it into a short convo afterwards, or even during if you are feeling it in the middle. Asking questions like “what did you learn from what we just read” are kind of vague and hard for others to answer without any think time beforehand. But if you lead by example and say “I really was impressed by how kind the Lord was to Joseph on that section, even though Joseph had just made some silly mistakes. It reminds me that even when I’m making mistakes and forgetting to do good things, the Lord will always be kind to me.” And then you just wait a bit. Maybe your spouse will say something, or you could invite them to, and maybe no one will say anything, but you are at least setting the ground example of “hey, in this household, I don’t just read the scriptures because I’m supposed to. I read them and find real life lessons within them and this is one small way I’m sharing my testimony with you.” And then after leading by example, hopefully some of your older kids might start agreeing to what you say, or adding on their own experience, or even coming with their own unique ideas to add. And honestly, I feel like this “tip” is essential. This is where the rubber meets the road for passing on WHY we read the scriptures, and your kids don’t have to be old to do this.
KRISTEN: Oh Cali those are such good tips and I wish that when I had younger kids I would have known those! Now I’ve got older kids from 8 into the teens, so I’d love to share some advice on how your scripture study can look. Because I think the main roadblock for families is that it feels like you’re swimming in some murky scripture water and no one really knows what’s going on and no one really cares. Honestly, that’s how I felt growing up. So I want to share with you two quick tips on making scripture study enjoyable and applicable:
CALI: Yes! We have tried so many different strangles. We’ve done the illustrated Book of Mormon books, we’ve put the Come Follow Me lessons on the TV and looked at pictures or watched videos. In fact, we’ve found some of the best success with switching it up often.
KRISTEN: Okay, the second tip is:
2. Do not have a set number of verses that you read, if at all possible. Now I have done this, it’s how my family growing up did scripture study, and you’ve probably done this too. But this kind of messes up the chance to really dive into the scriptures. Personally I like having a set amount of time we study the scriptures for. So if we’re interested in one verse we can spend all of our time discussing that one verse. If we’re focused on getting through a set number of verses and I try to pause to discuss any of them, everyone gets really antsy and it kind of falls apart. What do you think Cali?
CALI: Yup agreed! Feeling like you have to get through an entire chapter each time you stop down to read is probably going to squash the real purpose for reading which is connecting with heaven, right?!
I love all of that. Now let’s move on to the last one– Family Home Evening.
First, we’ve learned that FHE, or Family Night, does not need to happen on a Monday night. If Monday’s don’t fit into your schedule, don’t force it and find a different day that works better, or switch it around depending on the activity for the week. I do have to say that this requires some coordination with you and your spouse for when it’s going to happen, and what your expectations are for the activity.
And then, keep the purpose in mind! Family nights are to bond as a family, create positive shared memories, and share spiritual experiences together. Make that work however your family needs. Keep it simple and short with a little puzzle, reading a story from the friend, and eating a treat together. Or plan an outdoor activity with lots of running around, and wrap the night up with you telling each family member why you love them. Switch it up!
KRISTEN: Personally I think that General Conference talks are the PERFECT FHE option. We know we’re supposed to be studying them and a weekly FHE is a great time to do that. There are a few ways you could do this. You could assign one kid a week to be in charge of holding a discussion on a talk. Or, you could be in charge each week but assign kids to read specific quotes and come up with questions about them. Or if you really want help Cali and I have the FHE-on-the-Go podcast available through Apple Podcasts that does all this for you.
CALI: The last thing we want to point out is that Elder Gene Cook said there has to be agreement on family values for this to work. This means that we need to talk about why we’re praying, reading the scriptures, and having FHE. We can’t just say, “Because I told you so!” and hope for it to work. They WHY is so important, and without it, the actions themselves start to become lists of chores to get done for both you and everyone else. I’m so glad that we as a church culture are moving away from the idea that things have to be done a certain way, and instead recognizing that flexibility and age-appropriate activities are always available for bringing our families closer to Christ.
KRISTEN: Okay, so as a review our tips for prayer are:
Our tips for scripture study are:
Our tips for FHE are:
And any resources we mentioned are included below.
The major takeaway is that scripture study, prayer, and Family Home Evening really aren’t optional if we want our kids to gain their own testimonies of the gospel. But rather than being overwhelmed by these gospel habits we can make them easy and fun. We just have to focus less on how it looks and more on how it feels!