When the resurrected Savior ministered to the Nephites, He showed His great love for little children:
“He took their little children, one by one, and blessed them, and prayed unto the Father for them. …
“And he spake unto the multitude, and said unto them: Behold your little ones.
“And as they looked to behold they cast their eyes towards heaven, and they saw the heavens open, and they saw angels descending out of heaven as it were in the midst of fire; and they came down and encircled those little ones about, and they were encircled about with fire; and the angels did minister unto them” (3 Nephi 17:21, 23–24).
Referring to this account, Elder M. Russell Ballard said, “Clearly, those of us who have been entrusted with precious children have been given a sacred, noble stewardship, for we are the ones God has appointed to encircle today’s children with love and the fire of faith and an understanding of who they are” (“Great Shall Be the Peace of Thy Children,” Ensign, Apr. 1994, 60). The Savior’s example sets a pattern for us as we teach, care for, and influence children.
It is a sacred responsibility to teach children the gospel of Jesus Christ and help them learn to live it. You should teach them true doctrine, as did the prophet Nephi, who said, “We talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins” (2 Nephi 25:26).
As you teach children, you will find that you receive special blessings. Children will bring joy to your soul and prompt you to be a good example. As you come to recognize the faithfulness, love, trust, and hope of children, you will grow closer to the Lord and better understand His commandment to “become as little children” (Matthew 18:3). With the Spirit to guide you, you can love and teach children in a Christlike way. You can help each child find the peace promised to those who follow the Savior: “All thy children shall be taught of the Lord; and great shall be the peace of thy children” (3 Nephi 22:13).
The following information can help you better understand the characteristics of the children you teach (see also “Age Characteristics of Children,” pages 110–16, and, if you are teaching Primary, the introductory pages of your Primary lesson manual).
Children are believing. They believe what you say. They are receptive to the truth. You have an obligation to teach them correct doctrine simply and clearly, with language and examples that they can understand.
Children can recognize the influence of the Spirit. Teach them that the feelings of peace, love, and warmth they have when they talk or sing of Jesus Christ and His gospel come from the Holy Ghost. Help them understand that these feelings are part of a testimony.
Children take things literally. Everything is real to them. If you use complex metaphors to teach sacred gospel principles, they may become confused. Help children learn the gospel by discussing events and activities familiar to them: home, family, and the world around them. Make certain that they do not misunderstand what you teach.
Children are curious and eager to learn. They enjoy learning through varied and new experiences. They want to move about, use all their senses, explore, and try new things. Older children like the challenge of answering questions and solving problems. The children in your class will be more attentive and excited about learning when you use a variety of teaching methods and activities to teach gospel principles (see “Teaching with Variety,” pages 89–90).
Children are loving and want to be loved and accepted themselves. Look for opportunities to reinforce the kind and loving behavior that comes naturally to children. Because children want to please you and enjoy helping others, give them opportunities to serve. Ask them to carry your books, hold pictures, or answer questions. Encourage them to help one another. Show your love for them. Build their confidence by expressing your appreciation for their efforts whenever possible. Listen attentively to what they say.
Children are beginning to prepare for the future. While adulthood may seem far away for children, they are preparing now for their future responsibilities in their families, the Church, and the workplace. You can help them realize how their current experiences are preparing them. For example, you might say, “Mary, I watched you help Kelly see how to find that scripture. You were so patient and kind. Someday when you’re a mother, I’m sure that you will teach your children many wonderful things.” Or you could say, “Matthew, what a great missionary you will be one day because you have learned to set goals and complete them. I am so proud of you!”
Children will follow your example. You are always teaching, even when you are not aware of it. You often teach more by your attitude and example than by your words. For example, children will notice whether you treat the scriptures respectfully. They will observe how you speak about Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. They will watch how you live the principles you are teaching. Your righteous example will help them develop greater feelings of love and respect for Heavenly Father and His Son.
Little children have short attention spans, and they cannot sit still very long. Do not expect too much from them. Recognize that inattentive behavior might mean that they are tired or hungry, that they do not understand something you have said, that they need to move, or that they are bored. The best way to keep their attention and help them learn is to encourage them to participate in lessons. Because children have an abundance of energy, plan ways to allow them to move or to see, hear, smell, or touch something as part of each lesson. They enjoy learning through repetition, simple stories, songs, and activities.
If you are a teacher or leader, you can assist parents in their efforts to teach the gospel to their children. Tell parents what you are teaching in your class so they can reinforce those gospel principles in the home (see “Regular Occasions for Teaching in the Home,” pages 137–39). Encourage children to share with their family what they are learning. In family home evenings, they can share songs, scriptures, games, and principles they learn in Primary classes or activities. Occasionally you might send home reports on the lessons or activities in which they have participated to help reinforce what the child has learned. You could also let parents know when their child has been particularly helpful or when their child is assigned to pray or give a talk. You can invite parents to share their experiences or their testimonies as part of a lesson.
Remember that when you help children gain a testimony and live the gospel, they can influence their families for good. As you teach children the gospel and help them learn how to live it, you help strengthen their families.