After church one Sunday, my 10-year-old daughter’s Primary teacher stopped me in the foyer to share how amazing my daughter and her friend had been in role-playing being a missionary. She said she felt the Spirit so strongly as they seemed to answer tough questions with faith and courage, and she looked on in awe thinking about what fabulous missionaries these young women would be in a couple of years.
When she told me the story, this proud mama was all smiles. My oldest daughter is such a good girl. She always tries to do what’s right, and I never really worry about her. That is, until I start thinking about her away from home and possibly on a mission. Will her testimony be strong enough? Will she understand the gospel and scriptures enough to tackle tough questions? Will she really be ready?
I’ve always thought about missionary prep in terms of a class or studying and memorizing scriptures. Then I came across this article in the Liahona by a licensed psychologist about preparing emotionally and socially to serve a mission. The skills she shared are brilliant! They’re important, practical skills that I think we as parents sometimes overlook in our efforts to get our kids spiritually ready for a mission and making sure they know how to iron a shirt and cook a meal. But as the author pointed out, sometimes the biggest challenge in missionary work isn’t missionary work at all. Sometimes it’s what’s going on in their heads and with their emotions. Whether you’re trying to raise a missionary or not, these eight skills can help you better prepare your children to face the world.
Teach them how to be humble without feeling humiliated
Being humble is a hard concept for my kids to grasp. In the article I referenced above, the author explained it like this: being humble means being teachable and willing to learn. Help kids understand that people are not born naturally good or bad at anything. We’re all inadequate. Skills and talents come as a result of work, practice, and often some failure. Missionary work is no exception. It’s the Lord’s work, not ours, and we don’t have to figure it all out on our own. Here’s how parents can apply that idea now:
•Let your kids try new and hard things to teach them to get out of their comfort zones. Extracurricular activities, new jobs, and unfamiliar classes can teach them to ask questions, get help, analyze mistakes, and keep trying.
•Teach your kids to not take feelings of inadequacy too seriously. Trust that with practice and work you can improve.
Teach them how to take rejection
With every meltdown that my two-year-old son has when I tell him no, it’s pretty clear I’m not teaching him how to take rejection very well. But we’re working on it. Rejection and disappointment can be daily experiences on a mission and in life. Here are some practical things we can do to help get our kids prepared for that:
•Encourage them to apply for a job and do job interviews.
•Encourage them to try out for a team or a play.
•Encourage them to ask people on dates or to activities.
•When things don’t go well, teach them how to pay attention to thoughts and actions that helped them to cope and feel better.
•Teach them how to learn from setbacks and try again.
They’re not going to get every job. They’re not going to make every team. But the lessons they learn in picking themselves up and trying again are invaluable.
Teach them how to be motivated
When we’re not doing “something fun” my kids will let us know. “This is boring” is usually the complaint we hear. If you hear that comment too, use it as a time to teach this important lesson—we all need to figure out how to motivate ourselves when we’re bored and calm ourselves down when we’re stressed.
•If a child says something is boring, teach them to look at the situation and think about how they can fix it, make a game out of it, or figure out what they can learn from it.
•When you notice a child is overstressed, teach them to take a step back, break down the problem, and discover what helps them to calm down. If they discover actions that they can still do on a mission, like talking to someone, relaxing, writing, singing, walking, or praying, it’ll go a long way in helping prepare them to diffuse stressful situations their whole life.
Teach them to manage differences
Differences with companions, leaders, members, and investigators will come up all the time when our kids are on missions. Help them develop that skill of managing differences by practicing at home with siblings and friends. It’s definitely something we can work on in our home. Here are some great things to try:
•Teach them to appreciate others by asking why they do what they do.
•Teach them to take responsibility and to say sorry when they hurt someone else.
•Teach them to turn the other cheek. Don’t hold a grudge. Show them how to look for a compassionate explanation for another’s behavior.
•Teach them to ask others for help in solving problems rather than placing blame.
•Teach them to use a soft voice when conflicts arise and to always respect others’ feelings.
Teach them how to have a conversation
In this digital age of texts and social media, it seems like this skill of having a personal conversation is getting lost more and more. Our kids need to know how to have a good conversation. It’s the most personal form of communication and a skill our kids still need.
•If your child is shy, invite them to set a goal to talk to someone new for five minutes every week.
•Teach them the power of a smile and have them try out different questions that get people talking.
•Teach them how to start a conversation and to graciously end one too. Point out when you do it so that they can learn from your example.
•Teach them how to notice when others are trying to start a conversation so that they can be open and responsive.
•If you child is more of an extrovert, teach them how to draw out others by asking questions.
•Teach them to practice being a good listener.
•Teach them to recognize if a listener is tired of hearing them talk so that they know when to give people space.
Teach them to care for themselves
I’ve never really thought of a habit of diet and exercise as being part of mission prep, but it should be. Diet and exercise affect how we feel about life, so even when our kids are young, teaching them to eat healthy can go a long way. If they’re picky eaters, start small by having them try something new each week. Take the same approach with exercise. Have them start small, building up slowly. And last but not least, make a point to help teach them the importance of adequate sleep. If they have trouble sleeping or waking up, help them find remedies that work for them. Our bodies are the vehicles of our spirits. We have to teach our kids how to take care of them.
Teach them how to be positive
If our kids are going to bounce back from the negatives in life, they have to learn how to be positive.
•Laugh with them. Teach them to laugh at themselves and to not take everything so seriously.
•Have them list scriptures and hymns that uplift them and fill them with faith. It’s a good list to refer to on bad days.
•Teach them how to talk back to the negative voices in their head. Help them understand that if that voice is sarcastic, belittling, shaming, angry, cruel, or makes you feel hopeless, it’s not from God.
•Teach them to recognize the voice of the Spirit, which will always be hopeful and encouraging.
Teach them to be spiritual
•Teach your kids to really pray. Invite them to invite Heavenly Father to sit near them and then talk to Him openly about their problems, desires, and gratitude.
•Have them pray out loud, with a paper and pencil nearby to record impressions.
•Have them pray only giving thanks.
•Teach them to study the scriptures to find answers to their questions.
•Teach them to be a missionary now. Get them excited about going out and serving with the full-time missionaries, talking to their friends about the Church, and bearing an honest testimony at church.
So often this is the only thing we make our kids focus on when trying to get them to prepare for a mission. But mission prep is more than spiritual strengthening. It’s more than the missionary training center. Mission prep is every day in our homes. The eight skills above bring together the spiritual, the physical, and the emotional—and we can teach them all in our homes. As we do, our children will be better prepared to deal with the ups and downs that come with serving a mission and living life.
Get them really ready. Isn’t that what being a parent is all about?
Read how these parents prepared their children to serve missions.