President Joseph F. Smith’s love for the gospel was intertwined with his Christlike love for children—his own and all little ones. “The richest of all my earthly joys is in my precious children,” he said. “Thank God!”1
Charles W. Nibley, Presiding Bishop of the Church, noted that President Smith’s “love for little children was unbounded. During [a trip] through the southern settlements to St. George … , when the troops of little children were paraded before him, it was beautiful to see how he adored these little ones. It was my duty to try and get the company started, to make time to the next settlement where the crowds would be waiting for us, but it was a difficult task to pull him away from the little children. He wanted to shake hands with and talk to every one of them. …
“I have visited at his home when one of his children was down sick. I have seen him come home from his work at night tired, as he naturally would be, and yet he could walk the floor for hours with that little one in his arms, … loving it, encouraging it in every way with such tenderness and such a soul of pity and love.”2
“He showed great tenderness and love for his large and honorable family. In his last address to his children, November 10, 1918, his heart’s dearest sentiments were expressed to them in these words: ‘When I look around me, and see my boys and my girls whom the Lord has given to me,—and I have succeeded, with His help, to make them tolerably comfortable, and at least respectable in the world—I have reached the treasure of my life, the whole substance that makes life worth living.’”3
A man and woman who have embraced the gospel of Jesus Christ and who have begun life together, should be able by their power, example and influence to cause their children to emulate them in lives of virtue, honor, and in integrity to the kingdom of God which will redound to their own interest and salvation. No one can advise my children with greater earnestness and solicitude for their happiness and salvation than I can myself. Nobody has more interest in the welfare of my own children than I have. I cannot be satisfied without them. They are part of me. They are mine; God has given them to me, and I want them to be humble and submissive to the requirements of the gospel. I want them to do right, and to be right in every particular, so that they will be worthy of the distinction that the Lord has given them in being numbered among his covenant people who are choice above all other people, because they have made sacrifice for their own salvation in the truth.4
“Children,” we are told, “are a heritage of the Lord;” they are also, the Psalmist tells us, “his reward.” [Psalm 127:3.] If children are cut off from their birthright, how shall the Lord be rewarded? They are not a source of weakness and poverty to family life, for they bring with them certain divine blessings that make for the prosperity of the home and the nation. “As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them.” [Psalm 127:4–5.]5
We are a Christian people, we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and we feel that it is our duty to acknowledge him as our Savior and Redeemer. Teach it to your children. Teach them that the Prophet Joseph Smith had restored to him the Priesthood that was held by Peter and James and John, who were ordained under the hands of the Savior himself. Teach them that Joseph Smith, the prophet, when only a boy, was chosen and called of God to lay the foundations of the Church of Christ in the world, to restore the holy Priesthood, and the ordinances of the gospel, which are necessary to qualify men to enter into the kingdom of heaven. Teach your children to respect their neighbors. Teach your children to respect their bishops and the teachers that come to their homes to teach them. Teach your children to respect old age, gray hairs, and feeble frames. Teach them to venerate and to hold in honorable remembrance their parents, and to help all those who are helpless and needy. Teach your children, as you have been taught yourselves, to honor the Priesthood which you hold, the Priesthood which we hold as elders in Israel.
Teach your children to honor themselves, teach your children to honor the principle of presidency by which organizations are held intact and by which strength and power for the well-being and happiness and upbuilding of the people are preserved. Teach your children that when they go to school they should honor their teachers in that which is true and honest, in that which is manly and womanly, and worth while. … Teach your children to honor the law of God and the law of the state and the law of our country.6
We read in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants that it is required of parents to teach their children “to understand the doctrine of repentance, faith in Christ the Son of the living God, and of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the hands when eight years old.” “And they shall also teach their children to pray and to walk uprightly before the Lord.” And if the parents fail to do this, and the children go astray and turn from the truth, then the Lord has said that the sin shall be upon the heads of the parents [D&C 68:25, 28]. What a terrible thought it is that a father who loves his children with all his heart should be held responsible before God for having neglected those whom he has loved so dearly until they have turned away from the truth and have become outcasts. The loss of these children will be charged to the parents, and they will be held responsible for their apostasy and darkness. …
If I can prove myself worthy of an entrance into the kingdom of God, I want my children there; and I propose to enter into the kingdom of my God. I have set out for that, and I propose, with the help of the Lord and through humility and obedience, to complete my mission on this earth and to be true to God all my days. I have made up my mind to this, and am determined with the help of God that I will not fail. Therefore, I want my children with me. I want my family to accompany me, that where I go they may go also, and that they may share whatever exaltation I receive.7
Parents have an influence over their children; … and although we may not perceive that our example has any influence or weight, I assure you many times injury has been done by acts that we regarded as trifling through the influence they had upon our neighbors or children. … Yet we see fathers and mothers set an example before their children which they themselves condemn and warn their children against. The inconsistent conduct of parents has a tendency to blunt the sensibilities of children, and to lead them from the way of life and salvation, for if parents teach their children principles which they do not practice themselves, that teaching is not likely to have much weight or effect except for evil. We do not look at and reflect upon these things as we should. What will a child, when he begins to reflect, think of a parent who, professing to believe that the Word of Wisdom is part of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and has been given by revelation, violates it every day of his life? He will grow up to believe that his parent is a hypocrite and without faith in the gospel. They who take such a course incur fearful responsibilities. We cannot be too consistent in our course, neither can we be too faithful in fulfilling promises.8
Our children will be just about what we make them. They are born without knowledge or understanding—the most helpless creatures of the animal creation born into the world. The little one begins to learn after it is born, and all that it knows greatly depends upon its environment, the influences under which it is brought up, the kindness with which it is treated, the noble examples shown it, the hallowed influences of father and mother, or otherwise, over its infant mind. And it will be largely what its environment and its parents and teachers make it.
… A great deal depends upon the influence under which [a child] is brought up. You will observe that the most potent influence over the mind of a child to persuade it to learn, to progress, or to accomplish anything, is the influence of love. More can be accomplished for good by unfeigned love, in bringing up a child, than by any other influence that can be brought to bear upon it. A child that cannot be conquered by the lash, or subdued by violence, may be controlled in an instant by unfeigned affection and sympathy. I know that is true; and this principle obtains in every condition of life. … Govern the children, not by passion, by bitter words or scolding, but by affection and by winning their confidence.9
If you can only convince your children that you love them, that your soul goes out to them for their good, that you are their truest friend, they, in turn, will place confidence in you and will love you and seek to do your bidding and to carry out your wishes with your love. But if you are selfish, unkindly to them, and if they are not confident that they have your entire affection, they will be selfish, and will not care whether they please you or carry out your wishes or not, and the result will be that they will grow wayward, thoughtless and careless.10
Brethren and sisters … , I implore you to teach and control by the spirit of love and forbearance until you can conquer. If children are defiant and difficult to control, be patient with them until you can conquer by love, and you will have gained their souls, and you can then mould their characters as you please.11
God forbid that there should be any of us so unwisely indulgent, so thoughtless and so shallow in our affection for our children that we dare not check them in a wayward course, in wrong-doing and in their foolish love for the things of the world more than for the things of righteousness, for fear of offending them. I want to say this: Some people have grown to possess such unlimited confidence in their children that they do not believe it possible for them to be led astray or do wrong. They do not believe they could do wrong, because they have such confidence in them. The result is, they turn them loose, morning, noon, and night, to attend all kinds of entertainments and amusements, often in company with those whom they know not and do not understand. Some of our children are so innocent that they do not suspect evil, and therefore, they are off their guard and trapped into evil.12
What are we doing in our homes to train our children; what to enlighten them? What to encourage them to make home their place of amusement, and a place where they may invite their friends for study or entertainment? … Do we take personal interest in them and in their affairs? Are we providing them with the physical knowledge, the mental food, the healthful exercise, and the spiritual purification, that will enable them to become pure and robust in body, intelligent and honorable citizens, faithful and loyal Latter-day Saints?
… We may well give our sons and daughters some time for recreation and diversion, and some provision in the home for satisfying their longing for legitimate physical and mental recreation, to which every child is entitled, and which he will seek in the street or in objectionable places, if it is not provided in the home.13
The character and variety of our amusements have so much to do with the welfare and character of our young people that they should be guarded with the utmost jealousy for the preservation of the morals and stamina of the youth of Zion.
In the first place they should not be excessive; and young people should be discouraged from giving themselves up to the spirit and frivolity of excessive mirth. … They should be trained to appreciate more and more amusements of a social and intellectual character. Home parties, concerts that develop the talents of youth, and public amusements that bring together both young and old, are preferable. …
In the second place, our amusements should be consistent with our religious spirit of fraternity and religious devotion. … The question of amusements is one of such far-reaching importance to the welfare of the Saints that the presiding authorities of every ward should give it their most careful attention and consideration.
In the third place, our amusements should interfere as little as possible with the work of the school-room. It is very desirable that the early education of our young people should be carried on with as little interruption as possible. …
Lastly, it is to be feared that in many homes, parents abandon all regulation respecting the amusement of their children, and set them adrift to find their fun wherever and whenever they can. Parents should never lose control of the amusements of their children during their tender years, and should be scrupulously careful about the companionship of their young people in places of amusements.14
It is the duty of parents to teach their children the principles of the gospel and to be sober-minded and industrious in their youth. They should be impressed from the cradle to the time they leave the parental roof to make homes and assume the duties of life for themselves, that there is a seed time and harvest, and as man sows, so shall he reap. The sowing of bad habits in youth will bring forth nothing better than vice, and the sowing of the seeds of indolence will result invariably in poverty and lack of stability in old age. Evil begets evil, and good will bring forth good. …
Let the parents in Zion give their children something to do that they may be taught the arts of industry, and equipped to carry responsibility when it is thrust upon them. Train them in some useful vocation that their living may be assured when they commence in life for themselves. Remember, the Lord has said that “the idler shall not eat the bread of the laborer,” but all in Zion should be industrious [see D&C 42:42]. Neither should they be given to loud laughter, light and foolish speeches, worldly pride and lustful desires, for these are not only unbecoming, but grievous sins in the sight of the Lord.15
Labor is the key to the true happiness of the physical and spiritual being. If a man possesses millions, his children should still be taught how to labor with their hands; boys and girls should receive a home training which will fit them to cope with the practical, daily affairs of family life.16
It is very gratifying to parents to be able to respond to the desires of their children, but it is undoubtedly a cruelty to a child to give it everything it asks for. Children may wisely be denied things which even in themselves are harmless. Our pleasures depend often more upon the qualities of our desires than upon the gratification. A child may be ladened with gifts which afford him little or no pleasure, simply because he has no desire for them. The education then of our desires is one of far-reaching importance to our happiness in life. …
God’s ways of educating our desires are, of course, always the most perfect, and if those who have it in their power to educate and direct the desires of children would imitate his prudence, the children would be much more fortunate in combating the difficulties that beset men everywhere in the struggle for existence. And what is God’s way? Everywhere in nature we are taught the lessons of patience and waiting. We want things a long time before we get them, and the fact that we wanted them a long time makes them all the more precious when they come. In nature we have our seedtime and harvest; and if children were taught that the desires that they sow may be reaped by and by through patience and labor, they will learn to appreciate whenever a long-looked-for goal has been reached.17
Above all else, let us train our children in the principles of the gospel of our Savior, that they may become familiar with the truth and walk in the light which it sheds forth to all those who will receive it. “He that seeketh me early,” the Lord has said, “shall find me, and shall not be forsaken.” [D&C 88:83.] It behooves us, therefore, to commence in early life to travel in the straight and narrow path which leads to eternal salvation.18
How are the children who are entrusted to our care a “heritage of the Lord” and “his reward”? (Psalm 127:3). What divine blessings do children bring “that make for the prosperity of the home and the nation”?
Why must parents teach their children to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ? What other significant doctrines and principles should children be taught? (See also Mosiah 4:14–15; D&C 68:25–28.) How might this teaching be done?
What might be the results of failing to teach children the principles of the gospel?
Why is it important that parents be unified and consistent in teaching their children? Why is it important that they set an example that is consistent with what they teach?
Why is love the “most potent influence over the mind of a child”? How can parents win the confidence of their children? What might be the consequences of “selfish, unkindly” treatment of children?
What does it mean to be “unwisely indulgent” in raising a child? What are the dangers of unwisely indulging children?
What are “God’s ways of educating” and directing His children? How can we follow His example in our own families?
How can you follow President Smith’s counsel in setting guidelines for family entertainment? How can children be taught to strive for worthwhile goals through “patience and labor”?