By Linda Lee Handy
*Helping Children Listen,* Ensign, Mar. 1982, 46*47
When our children were very young, we always chose to sit at church in a place that offered a speedy retreat. The diaper bag was always filled with books, crayons, and quiet toys*equipment to pacify our very active and vivacious crew. Our goal was to keep them quiet during the meeting. But when they got older*elementary school-age*we decided they were ready for a new phase. We theorized that with a little more effort on our part we could help our children receive a new perspective of church meetings and gain more from the messages presented there. Our new goal was to help them listen and learn during church meetings. First we discussed it as a family, talking about what we were going to do and why. Then we experienced a *withdrawal period,* that time during which we no longer brought quiet distracting items to church for them but encouraged the three older children to listen. During this time, we did a lot of soul-searching. We realized that more than ever before our home had to become a spiritual learning center. The gospel concepts taught at church were to become more of a springboard for our home discussions; the principles taught at home were to be reinforced and enriched by church attendance. Thus, our children, we hoped, would find sacrament meeting more relevant. We found that we needed to focus on helping our children develop listening skills. Following are some ideas on how to do this, based on our experience: 1. Have family home evening lessons on the importance of listening and on how to listen. Begin by discussing how to listen to each other in one-to-one conversations. Role-play listening situations. Then during the week, be a good listener yourself with your children. Show them how important it is for the speaker to have eye-contact with the listener and for the listener to give his full attention. 2. Create other special listening situations at home. We have taped home evenings with our children telling scripture stories and teaching gospel principles. They love to listen to their own voices, and they play these tapes again and again. Reading aloud to children is also a marvelous way to teach them to listen. And taping these favorite reading selections for later use has become popular in our home. The tapes not only entertain, but they also teach correct principles. 3. As a family, discuss how these good listening techniques apply to group listening situations*especially sacrament meeting. Explain that eye-contact, taught in all in-service lessons for teachers, also applies to the audience. In sacrament meeting, model good listening habits for your children by looking at the speaker and not letting your eyes and thoughts wander. 4. At home, work to deepen and broaden your children*s knowledge of gospel vocabulary so that when they hear these terms in church talks, they can relate more effectively to them. Much of the spoken language of church meetings is within the comprehension range of even young children. Start with words like baptism, covenant, and sacrament, for example. 5. Help your children understand the purposes and happenings of church meetings. During home evenings, discuss specific events such as blessings, confirmations, and the sacrament. Then these parts of the meeting will be more familiar and interesting to them. 6. Assign each child a specific talk to retell at home. Have them write down a one- or two-sentence summary during the meeting. When talks are too complex for younger children, parents or older brothers and sisters can assist in explaining and conceptualizing. This way the whole family is involved, and everyone profits by the experience. 7. Start a family file or scrapbook of interesting stories or concepts heard in church meetings. Keep the headings simple*make it a project for even the youngest. Allow them to add their own ideas or handouts they bring home. When a home-evening lesson is centered on one of these topics or a talk is assigned to one of the children, review the file for resource material. 8. Sing hymns at home to help children be more interested in the music at sacrament meeting. Ask the music director for a list of the hymns scheduled for sacrament meeting; then practice them together in family home evening. Teach children to pay particular attention to the words. Discuss the messages of the hymns. If we parents make the effort and take the time, we can help our children appreciate church meetings to a greater extent. And the effort that we invest now in helping them acquire listening skills will pay eternal dividends.