Monday, January 31, 2011

An Update and Family Home Evening Troubleshooting Guide

Just a quick note to let you know that I have not given up on posting new family home evening lessons here.  My Mondays have become totally crazy from morning to night and this winter, like most winters, finds me sagging with less energy and enthusiasm than the rest of the year.     I  am really hoping the Mr. Groundhog will predict some warm sunshine very soon, since my Vitamin D pills are a poor substitute for the warm rays of the sun.  I hope to regain my groove sometime in the next few weeks....

In the meantime here's a troubleshooting guide I prepared for a RS Enrichment night lesson on holding successful family home evenings.    Feel free to add in your own solutions or problems in the comment section and I will try to address them (or add them to my list) in a future post.  

by Lara Goold

Issue #1
I have children that are preschoolers and teens and every age in between.  How can I possibly teach a lesson that will be meaningful to all of them? 

This is our pretty much our family right now and how we’ve done it, is that we always start off the lesson with a simple concept or object lesson that is the “meat” of the lesson (usually with lots of visual aids to keep them engaged).  We really focus it on the younger kids and enlist the older kids to teach or participate heavily in the discussion.  When I feel comfortable that they’ve really got it (usually in 5-10 minutes) we branch out a little more for the older kids.  We talk more about real-life application and specific situations that they might face, where they can put the gospel topic into practice.  The younger kids are present (although usually playing quietly) during this.  Sometimes it’s a challenge, but in the end I feel like everyone is getting something somewhat significant out of the lesson.  In addition, I believe that the review of simple concepts for the older kids and the preview of more in-depth concepts for the younger ones also adds a valuable element to the lesson. 

Issue #2:  My kids are so young, I just don’t think that they’re getting anything out of it.  Why bother?
It’s the habit that matters.  Keep the lessons short and sweet and fun.  If all they get out of a lesson is that Jesus loves them or that keeping the commandments is good, then consider it a success.  In addition to building their testimonies one simple concept at a time, establishing the habit of weekly family home evenings early in their lives will make it so much easier for you later, when they’re older and busier. 

Issue #3:  My teens are so resistant to sitting down for family home evening and always have a ready excuse at why they should be excused.

The best way to get around this is preventative maintenance.  If you’ve been having weekly family home evenings ever since they were small children, they would know that it is a firm expectation that they participate.  If it’s too late for preventative maintenance, then start now with consistently holding it weekly and expecting, firmly, but gently, that every member of the family participates.   Inconsistent lessons or loose expectations will only increase their resistance, so be committed…they need these lessons and family connections more than ever now! 

Issue #4:  My spouse gives really long, boring lessons that really turn the kids “off” of FHE. 

You may laugh, but I’ve talked to many, many people where this is an issue (including us occasionally…shhh don’t tell Glen).  My best suggestion would be to be prepared.  When it’s their turn to give a lesson, have a discussion beforehand at how you hope the lesson will go (stay positive).  If they’re too busy to plan for an object lesson or story that will capture the kids’ attention more, then plan one to go along with the topic (with their approval of course).  Be careful not to usurp the lesson teaching away from them.  Kids need to hear from both parents and their siblings whenever possible. 

Issue #5:  My kids are crazy and won’t sit down for 2 minutes.  I always end up so flustered by the end of FHE. 
It’s time to evaluate.  Are your lessons too long or not engaging enough?  Are you not expecting enough from them?  Are you consistently enforcing the same expectations week-to-week?  Or are you unknowingly reinforcing their poor behavior by paying them negative attention or by cutting the lesson short in frustration?  Figure out where the trouble is and work on fixing it.  Family home evening should be a positive experience for both kids and adults (at least most of the time).  In our house, we allow some quiet wiggles in the younger children, especially when we focus the lesson on the older kids, but leaving the room or disrupting the family are not tolerated at all.

Issue #6:  We are busy with so many activities, I just don’t know when we can squeeze one more thing like family home evening into our schedules.  We always go to church.  Isn’t that enough?

Think about it honestly.  If your life is so busy that you can’t squeeze in a 20-30 minute block of time once-a-week devoted to strengthening your family and learning the gospel together, then perhaps it’s time to evaluate where your priorities lie.  Remember family home evenings aren’t cookie cutter from family to family…find a time and a system that works for you and make it happen every week…no matter what!

Issue #7:  My kids always end up fighting by the end.  It’s exhausting.  

A little preventative maintenance here can go a long way.  If there’s a pot stirrer in your house that likes to get people’s goat (yes, we have two in our house), then try to preemptively engage them in a way that makes it harder to push people’s buttons.  Sit next to them.  Give them tasks.  I also strongly recommend keeping family home evenings positive (see commandment #4), so that no one ever feels ganged up on during a lesson.  If you notice the beginnings of a fight forming,  nip it in the bud. 

Issue #8:  My spouse isn’t supportive for making FHE a priority (or works long hours that make it unlikely for him to be home). 

Ideally, everyone in the family would always be able to participate happily in family home evening, but unfortunately we don’t live in an ideal world.   Don’t let this be a deterrent to you.  The blessings are indiscriminate.  If you have to be the one to take charge of family home evening by yourself, every week, your entire family will still be blessed for your efforts.   In our house, we usually try to move our family home evenings to Sunday nights when we know there is something going on on Monday, but sometimes my husband works late. Or something unusual pops up with one of the kids.   It’s not ideal, but in these situations we go ahead with family home evening…with whoever is there.  

Issue #9:  Someone always gets upset or feels picked on during the lesson and stomps off in a huff. 

Back to commandment #4 again….keep it positive.  Family home evenings are for teaching your family the gospel and how to be better people, not for addressing an individual’s behavioral issues.    Individual issues should be saved for individual conversations and family home evening lessons should be focused on gospel principles and character development.  I know from personal experience (from my youth) that people are not motivated to change by embarrassing them or by tearing them down.  Do everything you can to keep family home evenings a safe haven for everyone.  I believe that even discipline, when necessary during family home evening, should be kept positive. 

Issue #10:  I want to have fun family home evenings every week, but just don’t really enjoy cutting and laminating. How can we have lessons that the kids will enjoy without putting forth that much effort? 

I’ll be honest.  This was one of my biggest hesitations with having the family home evening packets to put together tonight.  I don’t ever want anyone to feel like they need a 10-page packet in order to have a fun, engaging family home evening lesson with their families.  I know that most people do not enjoy the cutting and laminating as I have, but in my mind it’s reflective of one of the beauties of family home evening—just as every family is unique, with its own strengths and weaknesses—so will our family home evenings be.  I know someone who would take turns picking a picture out of the Gospel Art Kit each week and they make that their lesson.  I know others that pick a story out of the Friend magazine and base their lesson on that.  Others will watch a clip of a church video and go from there.  Honestly, I think mixing it up and having the lesson style vary from week-to-week is a great way to keep from falling into a rut.   

Thursday, January 13, 2011

10 Commandments to Having Successful Family Home Evenings

by Lara Goold

1.  Thou shalt be consistent.  Consistency, consistency, consistency!    This, by far, is the most important thing you can do to make family home evening successful.  By making it a priority and making it happen each and every week, you will speak volumes about the importance of the gospel in your life.  When you are consistent you make it a part of your family identity to hold family home evening every week.

2.  Thou shalt be flexible.  Family home evenings don’t always have to be the same.  When life is crazy, don’t let it get swept under the rug in the guise of being “too busy”…modify it to make it work for your family.  Hold it on Sunday nights if Mondays are filled with children’s activities.  Give a lesson in the car if you’re running to and fro.  Go around the family and have each person share what they learned about in church, expounding where you feel inspired.   Discuss a scripture.  Open and close with a prayer and call it family home evening. 
3.  Thou shalt be prepared.  Well-prepared lessons are going to make having family home evening easier, however if you haven’t had time to prepare do NOT use it as an excuse to skip it.  If you’re telling a story as part of the lesson, read the story in advance and be ready to RETELL it rather than read it.  It’ll make it easier for them to listen and not take up as much time.    Being prepared also gives you a chance to choose the focus of the topic you’re teaching, as well as giving you time to think of real-life stories you can share. 

4.  Thou shalt make your Family Home Evenings a safe haven.  Don’t EVER focus your lesson on one child or one child’s behavioral issue.   This will only lead to embarrassment and resentment, not exactly the tools for effective teaching.  If there is a problem that needs to be discussed, then relate it to a gospel topic and keep it positive.  If an individual’s behavior really needs to be discussed in specific, then it should be as a private parent-child conversation, NOT as a family.  

5.  Thou shalt keep it simple.  Don’t expect 45-minute long lessons where everyone is sitting still on the couch.  This pretty much never happens at our house (or in Elder Bednar’s house either).  Have a simple routine that is the same from week-to-week (prayer, songs, lesson, business, treats, activity, prayer), and go with it.   Lessons that are 5-10 minutes long (or even shorter if the kids are younger) can be even more effective than a longer lesson where the children may start to tune out after a while. 

6.  Thou shalt make Family Home Evening fun.   You want family home evening to be something that they look forward to each week, and finding ways to liven things up will add an element of excitement and anticipation.  Use visual aids, pictures, object lessons, stories (particularly from your own life), and games, which of course, is easier if you have prepared in advance.  If nothing else, make sure there is a fun treat waiting for them at the end!

7.  Thou shalt go-with-the-flow.  If the lesson takes a different direction than you expect, go with it!  Some of our best lessons have ended up on completely different topics that we had started with. 

8.  Thou shalt involve everyone in the family as much as possible.  Even very small children can hold up pictures, repeat a scripture, pass out treats, and answer very simple questions.  Older children (school age and older) can teach the lesson, look up scriptures, participate in discussions (sometimes with prodding), make the treats, etc.   Children will enjoy participating in family evenings more when they know that they play an important part. 
9.  Thou shalt make the focus of Family Home Evening learning the gospel together as a family.  Sporting events or concerts can be fun for a family home evening, once in a while, but the focus of family home evening should be about learning the gospel and strengthening family ties.  We’ve been taught that FHE should be a place where we can pray, listen or sing sacred music, study the scriptures, work together, serve others, focus on developing obedience and self-discipline, place a high priority on building loyalty within the family, build self-worth, and develop traditions.

10.   Thou shalt relate the lessons to everyday life.  A story from your own life or that of a relative, will be all the more meaningful to your children as you teach them about important aspects of the gospel.  In addition, a lesson on a vague gospel topic such as faith or agency, will stick with them more if they know what faith or agency (or whatever topic) means to them on an individual basis.  How can they have faith?  What should they do if their faith is wavering?