Category Archives: Discipline

Feelings First-Aid Kit – addressing disruptions at home and in Primary

Sept 2018 FRIEND

It can sometimes be tough for children to manage their emotions. Big feelings can sometimes come out in disruptive ways. But teaching children to manage their feelings, at home and in Primary, starts with acknowledging and accepting the feeling — not asking the child to stuff the feeling inside. (Hint: these emotion-managing skills can be useful for adults too – with family members, coworkers, AND oneself.)

“Emotion coaching” is an idea from Dr. John Gottman that Michelle and I explore in our video workshop on this blog, “Video Workshop: Teaching Kids to Feel Empathy for All God’s Children Through Service (5:25-11:45). Emotion coaching starts with honestly acknowledging the feeling, not denying it. Sadly, an easy default response is scolding a child for feeling angry or upset or disappointed, but children cope better when their feelings are acknowledged. Then, when they feel understood, they can move ahead and brainstorm options of better behavior choices. “All feelings and wishes are acceptable. Not all actions and behaviors are acceptable,” said Dr. Gottman.

“Feelings First-Aid Kit” (the FRIEND magazine article linked above) says, “It’s OK to cry when you feel sad. Sometimes it can help you feel better. Even Jesus cried after His friend Lazarus died. (See John 11:35.)”

Here are two examples of emotion coaching, one at home and one in Primary.


Mom: It’s time to do your homework now!

9 year old: Ugh.  I don’t want to. I want to play some more.

Mom: I know you do.  It’s hard to stop playing when you’re having so much fun! And I know homework isn’t your favorite thing to do.

9 year old:  It’s my least favorite thing to do!

Mom: I know it is.  I never really liked doing homework either.  Let’s do it quickly and get it over with so we have time to go back outside and play together!  Let’s grab your folder and I can help you for a few minutes.



5 year old: I never get a turn. Everyone else always gets to have a turn. I never do.

Teacher/Leader: I can tell you’re very frustrated.  You love having a turn to (hold a picture, say the prayer, play the game). 

5 year old: (Pouting.  Head nodding YES.)

Teacher/Leader: I know it’s hard to wait for your turn. You’ll get a turn soon. Would you like to sit next to me here while you wait for your turn? 


Interested in exploring more about Emotion Coaching? Check out the video workshop on this blog, “Video Workshop: Teaching Kids to Feel Empathy for All God’s Children Through Service. (5:25-11:45). Also see Helping children accept others with special needs.



Leave a comment

Filed under Discipline, Life Lessons

Unresponsive children – “love them today, maybe teach them tomorrow”

You probably have some children in your life that are harder to love. They may be in your Primary, they may be in your family. You WANT to love them, and you know that Jesus loves them. What helps me is to remember that love — God’s pure love, or charity — is a gift of the Spirit that I can pray for. Moroni, as he was being hunted day and night, wrote these profound words: “Wherefore, my beloved brethren [he’s talking to us, his readers in the last days], pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ.” (Moroni 7:48)

Surprisingly, some of the children that were most challenging for me to deal with have been the ones that I ended up loving the most, once we broke through to each other. And we taught each other a great deal along the way.

More importantly, I have earnestly sought to feel the love that God feels for this child. Sometimes those prayers are answered with surprising loveforce. As I like to say, you can’t have that kind of love flow through you without getting any on you.

Ready for some fresh ideas on loving each one, dealing with distractions, and discipline? Try these ideas:

God has entrusted us with His children — ALL the children. We can love them today — even the unresponsive ones — and maybe we can teach them tomorrow.


Leave a comment

Filed under Discipline, Life Lessons, Reaching the One

Staffing, Training, Behavior Management, and more!

Calling all Primary leaders! Here are some ideas for making your Primary the best it can be.



God bless the faithful Primary leaders who work so hard to lead God’s children back to Him.


Leave a comment

Filed under Discipline, Primary Presidency Administration, Special Needs

Meeting Children At Their Level

Today’s guest author is Emma Lu, a wife, mother, grandmother, writer and music therapist who is inspired by children.

Children are a heritage from the Lord; they are a reward from him. (Psalm 127:3, New International Version)

It is true, children at times can be rowdy, but if we look we will always enjoy the angels inside. You’ve just got to love them.

The Primary sacrament meeting presentation was about to begin. The busy Primary president saw a 10-year-old boy sitting with legs folded together, arms crossed, and scowling face, defiantly pouting at the base of the pulpit in the chapel. She went over to him, knelt down by his side, and spoke softly to him. Then she stood and went about caring for other children. The boy then stood with a smile on his face and joined his class. It showed those of us who watched the tense scene how the boy’s attitude was changed by a loving leader. I asked the Primary president to tell me her wisdom. She said, “It is important to meet a child on his/her level, whether it is physical, emotional, or spiritual. All children need understanding.”

To have the privilege of working in Primary is fulfilling a promise from the scriptures: “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6, King James Version)

– Emma Lu

1 Comment

Filed under Discipline, Reaching the One, Teacher Support

Recipe for Success: Dealing with Distractions and Helping Kids Focus

You’ve probably been there: kids spinning in different directions, sometimes all talking at once. They’ll chatter about what they had for breakfast, or their birthday coming up (in only 11 months!), or whatever. Trying to get them all to focus on your lesson can be challenging.  

Today’s guest author Kyoko was born and grew up in Japan, moved to California when she married, and now has a sweet college-aged daughter. She has served in Primary for many years and loves everything about Primary (the hard work and the joy)! Kyoko shares the following terrific ideas to get kids focused.

Keeping children’s interest requires preparation. Arriving in the room before the children is the first step. Setting up the room with pictures or music playing also sends the signal that something interesting is going to happen. Using variety in teaching is key; no one likes to listen to a monologue week after week.

Recipe for Success = Preparation.

  1. Arrive before the children
  2. Set up the room
  3. Use variety in teaching

But after you’ve laid the foundation with good preparation, when you need an instant focusing activity, try these ideas:

  • “Tell me that story when we’re walking to the Primary room, OK?” This shows interest in the child and his/her life without letting them take over your lesson. Be sure to remember to ask them later, so they know you’re genuinely interested.
  • Freeze/unfreeze: Ask the children to freeze in place, whatever they’re doing. Then give the most important part of the lesson — the main point — in 1-2 minutes while they’re frozen.
  • Set the timer. “For 15 minutes, we’re doing this. Then we’ll move onto another activity.” The timer gives the children the idea that this part of the lesson will come to an end! And children often enjoy watching the countdown.
  • Ask them to take notes. Older children can take notes or draw the main points of the lesson, then share their ideas at the end. You can give them a clipboard with a sheet of paper so they can take their notes home, or a small notebook that you keep with you. Notetaking is a skill, so don’t give up if it takes a few weeks for them to figure out what you’re asking them to do. It doesn’t hurt to let them doodle for a few minutes, especially at first. Doing something often helps kids listen better, even if it’s not always apparent.
  • Substitute a child’s name. Lesson manuals often have stories about ordinary children that illustrate the points of the lesson. Instead of Bobby or Susie, insert the name of children in your class. This doesn’t work for stories about actual people — scriptural characters or modern-day prophets — but it works beautifully for the case studies or examples often found in lesson manuals. Make sure you keep track so every child’s name will eventually be used.

    Pick a helper. I put a chair right next to me and ask a certain child if he/she wants to be my helper today. Every kids love to be spotlighted. I pick somebody who is not that happy to be there, or a child who is looking straight at me (that means ready he/she is ready)! You have to see the big smile of the child when you pick them. They look so proud of themselves!

  • Draw. I draw pictures on the chalkboard instead of showing printed pictures sometimes when I start feeling like I’m losing them. Kids laugh at my drawing sometimes but I laugh too! Then I challenge them to draw while I tell stories from scriptures. They love to participate.
  • Vary your voice. When I read scriptures, I read like a story book by changing tones, speed etc. They seem to pay more attention. has many resources to liven up your lessons, including related music, videos, and gospel art. To download from YouTube to your computer, so you’re not relying on the chapel’s wireless connection, put the letters “ss” before the link.


More Blog Favorites: For more ideas, see the “Lovable Rascals” skit and “Your Preparation Leads to a Child’s Reverence: Two Guided Meditations.” Hold onto your funny bone while you see lessons go haywire! Drawing and note-taking particularly appeal to kinesthetic learners: see “Teaching to a Child’s Whole Body.”   Also see “Potatoes every night: Variety in Teaching.”



Filed under Discipline, Reaching the One, Teacher Support

“An Egg for Everyone” – secret weapons galore

This is an excerpt from a book review written by Kate Wangsgard of “Sunday Lessons and Activities for Kids,” the book that emerged from this blog. The review was published in the spring 2015 Exponent II magazine, page 35. Read the full review here

Kate loves to cook and eat delicious vegetarian food, plan-over-the-top Halloween parties and go on bike rides with her family. She lives in Cambridge, MA with her soccer-loving husband, moppy-haired 7 year old son and adventurous 1 year old son.

I am currently teaching Sunbeams for the third time in ten years, so I’m willing to try just about anything to keep those wiggly little bums in their chairs. After reading through “Sunday Lessons and Activities for Kids,” I found what looked to be a secret weapon in the war against squirmy three-year-olds. Last Sunday I sat down next to my rows of Sunbeams, waiting for the perfect moment to use my new trick. It wasn’t long before one of the kids started hopping out of his chair. So I squatted down in front of him and whispered, “I have a special job for you. I need you to pretend you’re a bird and your chair is an egg that you need to keep warm. Make sure you stay in your chair so your egg stays warm!” His eyes lit up as he settled into his chair with a proud smile. It was working! Throughout the rest of Sharing Time, whenever he stared to get out of his chair, I reminded him of his little egg and he quickly returned to keep it warm. My co-teacher was impressed and I sat back and smugly marveled at my newfound Sunbeam wrangling skills.

Sunday Lessons and Activities for Kids” ought to be required reading for anyone serving in Primary. While it is full of clever ideas and tricks like the egg-warming one above, its greatest value lies in the suggestions for sensitively dealing with difficult situations you encounter while teaching children in the Church. The book gives suggestions for how to navigate a lesson on honoring your parents when you know some of your kids don’t have a positive relationship with their parents. It discusses how to deal with bullying and other behavior issues and includes suggestions to reach children of all learning styles or children with special needs. There is a lesson to teach children about the valuable role of women in the Church by introducing them to strong female leaders, past and present. Any efforts to help teach the gospel to the next generation in a more open and loving way gets my vote.

[The book] suggests simple but helpful rules for establishing a smoother running Primary and ways to help the kids learn and remember those rules each week. There are ways to improve Singing Time, Primary training meetings, and suggestions for working with the bishopric on staffing issues. There is also a detailed plan for transitioning new Sunbeams from nursery to Primary.

Sunday Lessons and Activities for Kids” is a quick read but will be a great resource to have on hand when you find yourself facing a particularly daunting subject or difficult situation.

– Kate Wangsgard

(Thank you, Kate!)

Leave a comment

Filed under Bullying, Discipline, Lesson, Music, Nursery, Reaching the One, Special Needs, Transitions

Video: 10 Quick Ways to Review Classroom Rules in Primary

Two of our most popular posts are Classroom management: a few easy rules in kid language and Mastering Classroom Rules: Repetition without Boredom.  We’re delighted that teachers and leaders worldwide are finding these ideas useful in channeling kids’ behavior, so that the Spirit can be present.  In these posts I suggest five simple rules that can be used in the classroom as well as Sharing Time and Singing Time.

In the video below I act out ten fun ways to review the classroom rules, with Michelle as “director.” Remember that reviewing the rules is not the lesson itself; it should be very brief at the start of each class so you can get into the lesson.

Watch on YouTube: 10 Ways to Review Classroom Rules in Primary

It’s amazing what 5 basic classroom rules can cover!  Take just a quick 30 seconds each week before you begin teaching your Primary class to review the rules so they are fresh in everyone’s mind.  Repetition without boredom!


SundayLessons_Front_RGBThis idea appears in “Sunday Lessons and Activities for Kids,” with downloadable posters here.


by | July 27, 2015 · 9:09 am

A child’s safe space to choose the right

Our guest author today is Emma Lu, a wife, mother of seven, and grandmother. She is an author and lecturer, and she enjoys writing histories and life events.

This story took place, you might say yesteryear, when it was safe to leave a child alone, but not so in today’s world; to protect a child from harm is a parents/guardians greatest responsibility.  I invite you to read and ponder the message of a wise parent letting their child learn self-discipline by consequences.  It is my wish, as you read, that you will consider the question: Does a child learn best by being forced to choose the right, or whether to provide the space for children to (safely) learn from their mistakes.

I remember well the day I made a choice to attend church; I was six years old.  It was a lazy Sabbath day with the summer sun beginning to ride the horizon.  The scene opens on my neighbor’s front porch.  I recall playing with friends and having a great time.  I was straddled across the porch railing pretending, along with my friends, to be cowpokes riding gallant horses in the the untamed west.

While being in never-never land, I heard my mother’s engaging voice call out, “It’s time to come home and get ready for sacrament meeting.” My thought was, “I’ll come later.” Soon her voice called again and I pretended not to hear her.  The next voice was my father’s.  With a deep commanding tone he confirmed, “Your mother has called you home; it is time for church.”  Not wanting to obey, I called back in a defiant voice, “Do I have to go to church?”  There was an uncomfortable time lapse as I waited for his response.  “No, you don’t ever have to go to church.”  With his final statement he departed into the house.

As he left, my friends laughed, but I felt confused and crushed.  I really didn’t want to be a “brat” in the eyes of my parents.  However, I put on a good show of cheerfulness for my friends.  I continued to ride my imaginary stallion and galloped across the dry prairie like a fearless rider.  Soon my noble steed slowed to a trot, and then to a slow pace, coming to a stop.  I slid off the porch railing and wandered home as if I were a forgotten child in the dungeon of doom.  My parents were going on without me!

I returned home to empty rooms and felt completely dejected. That’s when I made my own personal choice to be a church attender because my parents let me experience the emotional consequences of my poor choice. That was the key…natural consequences accompanied with a kind, calm, firm manner.  Once again as stated, it is not wise to leave a child alone where harm could come, but the method of natural consequences is a wonderful example to follow.

As parents/guardians we can wisely choose to help a child safely learn self-discipline through the principle of natural consequences. It takes courage, prayer, genuine love, and guidance from the Holy Spirit.  It is not easy, but as parents/guardians we must remember the wise counsel from the book of Proverbs: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)

-Emma Lu

A version of this story originally appeared on as “Why Does God Want Me to Go To Church?” 

1 Comment

Filed under Discipline, Life Lessons, Parent Involvement, Reaching the One

Primary in Zion becomes a book! “Sunday Lessons and Activities for Kids”

SundayLessons_Front_RGBIt started with you, our readers. We began this blog and watched in astonishment as it spread all over the world. We dreamed of turning the best posts and other ideas into a book you can take with you to read on the beach or on your couch, to savor the stories and refer to the ideas and helps again and again. We took your favorite Primary in Zion blog posts, invited new voices from other authors, and put them together in a volume called “Sunday Lessons and Activities for Kids”.  It is now available on,, or wherever LDS books are sold.

Here’s what it’s about: Children. If you’ve ever wished you could send the entire church class into timeout, then basked in the radiance of a child’s face when the Spirit speaks to her spirit, this book is for you. In these pages are memorable stories of the exuberant joy as well as the real-world challenges of working with children. You’ll also find ready-to-use ideas for channeling boundless energy, teaching about ideal families to children who live in other-than-ideal families, staffing challenges, bullying, children’s music for a lifetime, kids with special needs, building a celestial nursery, pint-sized service projects, and behavior management. And you’ll find some of the best children’s lesson enhancements and activities of all time.

Click here for downloadable files of the figures and handouts in the book.

Here’s what they’re saying about this new book:

“Why didn’t I think of that?!” you ask yourself, then gratefully acknowledge: “Thank goodness Marci McPhee did!” With sensitivity to the needs of all children, and love beyond measure for these precious little ones, McPhee lights the way to joyfully leading our children “home.” —Lori Henderson, co-creator of 


Learning of my son’s disability and being called to teach Primary were both scary events in their own right. I wasn’t sure how to react to either situation. I wish I had found Sunday Lessons and Activities for Kids sooner! This book speaks to both men and women about how to fulfill this special calling. —Marc Buchanan, father and Primary worker 


Drawing first-hand examples from thoughtful Latter-day Saints, Marci McPhee has put together a guide that is an engaging, provocative, reassuring, and, importantly, faithful resource for teachers and parents. —Ron Scott, journalist, novelist, and author of “Mitt Romney: An Inside Look at the Man and His Politics” 


This is the most honest, heart-warming collection I have read about teaching children. The tips are practical, real-life, and easily adaptable. This book reminds us of the transforming power of viewing children as the Savior did. It will give new vision to leaders, teachers, and parents. —Gladys Farmer, author, mother, and grandmother with many years of Primary experience

Contributing authors:

Julia B. Blake

Jon Forsyth

Lori Forsyth

Char Lyn Grujoski

Kristine Haglund

Danielle Harrell

Roz Hawk

Michelle Henderson

Jackie Herrera

Tina Huntsman

Jenn Iverson

Whitney Johnson

Caroline Jones

Linda Hoffman Kimball

Rebecca Lewis

Brigitte Madrian

David Madrian

Emily Mangum

Marci McPhee

James McQuivey

Megan McQuivey

Michelle Purrington

Helen Claire Sievers

Laura Stowell

Martha Wingate

With special thanks to anonymous contributors.


A portion of the proceeds support immigrant mothers and their children at Waltham Family School in Massachusetts.


Filed under Activity, Bullying, Discipline, Lesson, Life Lessons, Music, Nursery, Opening Exercises, Overheard in Primary, Parent Involvement, Reaching the One, Sacrament Meeting Presentation, Scouts, Scriptures, Sharing Time, Special Needs, Teacher Support, Transitions

Classroom Management Poster: Download and print from home!

photo from

photo from

This idea is catching fire! Awhile back we shared these 5 simple Classroom Management rules in kid-friendly language that cover just about everything you need but remain concise and easy to remember.  We received some excellent feedback and success stories from Primaries who put them to use.  One Primary President took this idea and created a digital document for all of her Primary teachers.  Here’s the story.

For a large classroom-sized print, here’s Primary Rules on 5 separate pages. Print on regular paper,  tape together, and voila!

As always, reverence is not an end in itself, but a means of inviting the Spirit to whisper truth to children’s hearts.


1 Comment

Filed under Discipline