“Home evenings on Monday nights go pretty well in our family—the manual gives us the base we need to work from. But sometimes trying to get a good discussion going during family home evening or other family study periods is like pulling teeth.”
“It’s easy for our family to have fun together. But when it comes to discussing the gospel, suddenly everybody seems to forget how to talk.”
One of the benefits of the consolidated meeting schedule is more family time on Sunday, and families are encouraged to use some of this extra time studying the gospel together—in addition to regular family home evenings on Monday nights. But since there aren’t enough lessons in the home evening manual for all of these extra discussions, where can families turn for material?
The scriptures, of course, should be a primary source. And Church magazines—the Ensign, New Era, and Friend—can also become a favorite resource for discussions. Many of the articles in the Ensign, for example, could easily be adapted for discussion: messages from the First Presidency; conference talks and other current speeches; articles on marriage, family, needs of individuals, current Church curriculum, Church programs, how the gospel intersects with daily living, inspiring experiences of present-day Saints, and more.
To make your job easier, the Ensign begins this month to include some sample discussion questions for selected articles each month (see pp. 10, 16, and 48, this issue). After reading these articles individually or as a family, try discussing them and talking about some of the questions. Or try making up your own. With older children, avoid simple yes/no and recall questions—ask, instead, questions that require thought and analysis. A discussion can be a time when family members openly talk about a specific challenge or topic. Together, family members can give and seek information and opinions, ask questions, elaborate on ideas, make suggestions, and sometimes reach mutual conclusions.
Leading a Discussion
But how do you get started? What kinds of things do you keep in mind as you fill the role of discussion leader? The following nine points (adapted from How to Lead a Discussion: Some Practical Suggestions for Discussion Leaders, prepared by the Melchizedek Priesthood MIA for the 1973 June Conference) could come in handy as you attempt to lead family discussions:
1. Establish a good discussion climate. Each person should feel free to contribute, to share his ideas, to think aloud with the group—without fear of ridicule. Help family members realize that it’s good that everybody doesn’t think exactly alike, and that individual points of view are important. An opening hymn and prayer and comfortable seating (preferably in a circle) can help. Don’t insist on raising hands or taking turns. Keep the atmosphere free and informal.
2. Start out creatively. If you are discussing a scripture or an article or speech from the Ensign, you may wish to read the material aloud together, or you might assign family members to read it individually first. Try other ways of getting the discussion going, too—analogies, stories, interesting questions, examples from the article, games, quizzes, or resources from the ward meetinghouse library (such as films, tapes, maps, pictures). Make sure that your attention-getter leads right into the discussion topic, and that the family understands clearly what the purpose of the discussion is. Be careful not to let the introduction take up all of your time.
3. After reading or reviewing the article you’ll discuss, move on to specific ways the material can apply to your family. For example, you might want to talk about a central character in the article: What did he do? What did he gain from his experience? How did his attitude change? What would you have done in his place? Would you have responded the same way?
Or you might discuss a situation in the article: Why did the events happen as they did? What other solutions might have been available? What can we do to cause—or avoid—this same situation in our family?
Or you might discuss your family’s reaction to the article: How did this article make you feel? What difference can it make in our own lives or in our family? What can we learn from this article?
Or try discussing an idea from the article: Do you agree with this author’s explanation of faith? How would you define it? What personal experiences have led you to feel this way?
As discussion leader, you don’t need to come up with all of the questions. Ask other family members to ask their own. Encourage them to make comments concerning their feelings about the article or the discussion.
4. Keep the discussion focused. It’s your job to kindly, yet firmly, keep the group from wandering too far from the topic. However, don’t worry if family members don’t say everything just like you would say it yourself, or if the discussion takes a different route than you had envisioned. Let others approach the subject in their own way.
5. Listen attentively to every comment. Try to understand the meaning behind every comment as well—and encourage others to do the same. In this way, family members—especially younger children—will recognize that what they are saying really matters, and they will feel more like sharing their ideas.
6. Encourage everybody to participate. Avoid letting one or two monopolize the discussion. Be sensitive to feelings of some family members who may feel intimidated by the comments or personalities of more vocal ones, and encourage them to voice their own points of view. Give everyone a chance to say something. Praise comments, when appropriate.
7. Avoid playing too dominant a role yourself. Don’t feel that you have to be the one to answer every question or add to every comment. Direct questions back to the family group or ask others for their ideas, comments, or solutions. Usually the more the discussion leader becomes a member of the group, the more others will participate.
8. Wrap up the discussion at the end. Summarize—or ask a family member to do it. Don’t simply repeat everything that was said; try to analyze the content. Ask the family if the summary has fairly represented their ideas.
9. Evaluate the discussion. Ask yourself or the family if all felt free to participate, and how to improve the next discussion.
Participating in a Discussion
Here are some suggestions for participants:
(1) Accept the responsibility to share your ideas, to answer questions. (2) Ask clarifying questions; if you’re lost, others probably are, too. (3) Don’t try to fill up all the silent spaces between comments. (4) Listen attentively to others instead of thinking only about what you are planning to say next. (5) Address your comments to the whole family, not just to the discussion leader or another person. (6) Don’t take up all the time with too many lengthy comments. (7) Allow others to have their own points of view, even if they differ from your own. Avoid contention; stay calm. If you feel you must disagree, be sensitive, kind, and friendly. (8) Help the family reach appropriate conclusions at the end of the discussion.
Most importantly, all family members should keep in mind that the purposes of the discussion are to draw closer as a family, to learn more about the gospel, to help strengthen faith and commitment—and to keep the lines of family communication open.