“Heart to Heart,” Ensign, June 1997, 57
One way parents can strengthen their friendship and communication with their children is to interview them regularly. In a conference talk on parent-child interviews, Elder Carlos E. Asay of the Seventy said: “I do see great wisdom in the practices and performances which we encourage parents to follow in the Church. There is virtue in sponsoring family home evenings; in conducting family prayers … ; and in holding parent-child interviews. All of these are important and have their place. … They are means of involving, means of teaching, and means of blessing people” (Ensign, Nov. 1983, 15; emphasis added). Just a few quiet moments in an interview with a son or daughter can teach a father or mother much about the child. Such heart-to-heart, spirit-to-spirit communication serves to establish a bond of mutual understanding and respect that affects most other aspects of family life.
Holding parent-child interviews regularly and creating a positive atmosphere for communication provide opportunities—not only during the interviews but also at other, less formal occasions—to teach and counsel children, listen to their concerns, and to strengthen relationships.
My wife and I have found that interviews with our children are more successful if we meet at a regular, anticipated time. For us, Sunday evening seems to be best. Others might find another time more convenient. If interviews are held regularly, children will come to look upon them as their special time with Dad or Mom. A single mother told me recently that the best thing she does is spend time one-on-one with her children. “They insist on it,” she says. “It’s done wonders for us.”
When we began holding interviews with our children, our three-year-old son was very reluctant to come in for his first interview. He didn’t know what was expected and wasn’t sure he wanted to find out. I explained to him, “All I want to do is give you a kiss and a hug and tell you how much I love you.” He came running, and has insisted on having an interview every week since.
I am often surprised by the strength of our children’s insistence that we meet together. Our time alone spent in pleasant, largely informal discussion has proved very effective and helped improve all other communication within the home.
Successful interviews need to be free of criticism and censure. The time must be viewed by the child as an occasion when problems, concerns, fears, hopes, or experiences can be discussed freely in an atmosphere of acceptance and understanding.
A good way to foster a positive atmosphere is, if appropriate, to have prayer, perhaps in the beginning of the interview or perhaps at the end. “Praying together is an important part of an interview. It allows parents and children to humble themselves, express gratitude for the relationship they share, and acknowledge their need for guidance. In the prayer, parents can express love for and confidence in the child and ask the Lord to direct the interview” (Remember Me [Relief Society study guide, 1989], 143; see also “Elements of an Effective Interview,” in Lay Hold upon the Word of God [Melchizedek Priesthood study guide, 1988], 18–19).
Some time ago our nine-year-old daughter was talking with me about a problem she was having with some friends at school. Except for my asking an occasional question, she did all of the talking, and I did all of the listening. She drew her own conclusions, made a decision, and left the interview declaring to her mother that Dad had solved her problem. “You ought to go in there,” she said. “Dad is really a good problem solver.”
Later my wife asked what I had said or done that achieved such spectacular results. “She talked, I listened,” I said. Our daughter had solved her own problem once she had found a favorable climate in which to discuss it. While solutions don’t always come so easily, parents can help children by providing a safe environment where feelings and concerns can be aired.
Interviews are good opportunities to teach and counsel children. The interview must be a three-way experience involving the parent, the child, and the Spirit. Scripture counsels that “if ye receive not the Spirit ye shall not teach” (D&C 42:14). When a mother or father prayerfully communicates with a child, the way is opened for the Holy Ghost to confirm the true principles being taught. I’ve been able to express feelings about the priesthood, for example, that could not have been expressed with the same results in any other setting. In this respect interviews with our sons as they approach the age of priesthood eligibility have become priesthood training seminars that have been memorable and instructive for us all.
Not long ago I sat with one of our children who tearfully described a very real problem that at the time was agonizing and seemingly unresolvable. As we discussed the problem and how to face it, I felt I should ask whether a father’s blessing might help. We both agreed it would. I was prompted during the blessing to indicate that the problem might never be completely solved but that it could be endured and used for profit and growth. Counsel came from the Lord. It was a rare teaching moment in which parent and child learned together. The power of the Spirit was very real, and the importance of righteous uses of the priesthood took on added significance.
We have found it important to let children use a significant portion of the interview time to talk about anything they choose. Almost always I’ll ask, “What do you need to talk about?”
I spent a considerable length of time one night talking with our four-year-old son about trucks. During another interview our two-year-old son and I had a rather disjointed conversation about cows. The older children sometimes have questions they’d like to discuss or personal problems they’d like help with. Frequently, in interviews with older children we are able to talk about lighthearted things and share a laugh. Once children learn they can speak freely, they will continue to share their thoughts as they grow older and are faced with more serious concerns. An old proverb states, “The time to dig a well is before you’re thirsty.” Starting the custom of parental interviews while the children were young established a habit of comfortable communication with them as they grew older.
Significant blessings have been added to our home and family life as a result of holding parent-child interviews. Each child leaves the interview feeling good about himself or herself, and feelings of worth and parental support engender high resolve. One of our young children recently asked me if I thought he had been a good boy. I had noticed that he had been unusually tolerant of his two-year-old brother’s irksome antics, so I told him he had been a very good boy. Then I asked, “How come you’re so sweet lately?” He replied, “‘Cause I’m so important in our family.” Then he gave me an unexpected hug.
There is no question that holding parent-child interviews has increased the spirit of love in our home, not only between parents and children but also among the children themselves. It has been our experience that these regular interviews help make our more frequent informal chats together more natural and effective. Used in concert with other efforts to establish a spiritual atmosphere within the home, these interviews have helped provide greater security, friendship, trust, and love among family members.
This article may furnish material for a home evening discussion or for personal consideration. You might consider questions such as:
How can we improve our time spent talking with our children?
What can be done in interviews to help foster rich memories as well as an atmosphere of open communication?
What subjects would our children enjoy talking with us about, and what matters might we appropriately discuss with them?