Category Archives: Life Lessons

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.



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“Is he REALLY a child of God? And who has sent him here?”

May 6-12 in “Come Follow Me” is titled “Rejoice with Me; for I Have Found My Sheep Which Was Lost.” This has particular resonance in Primary, where we think about and seek to love Every Single Child, remembering that each has heavenly parents.

You don’t expect this kind of confession from General Authorities, but Elder Brian K. Taylor of the Seventy told about a visit to the “old rock chapel” of his youth. “Drawn to little voices coming from the same Primary room I attended decades ago, . . . I smiled as I remembered patient and loving teachers who, during our singing time back then, would often look at me—that rambunctious little boy at the end of the pew—as if to say, ‘Is he really a child of God? And who has sent him here?’”

Of course, Elder Taylor, even as a rambunctious little boy, is indeed a child of God – and so is each child in your Primary and in your family. The children of today are the leaders of tomorrow. We are given the sacred task of helping them on their way. So when we are tempted to think, “who has sent HIM here?” let’s hope that if we had little Elder Taylor in our Primary, we might have seen beyond his rambunctiousness and focused on the divinity within, however well hidden!

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Filed under Life Lessons, Reaching the One

Children and disasters

For the first time in decades, I walked past the elementary school of my childhood recently. I walked right to the spot on the playground where I heard the news of the tragedy that defined my generation. The teachers were crying, and we children were all sent home to try to make sense of it with our parents.

Some tragedies are too big for children to ignore, even in Primary. While the task of helping children deal with disasters largely falls to parents, Primary leaders and teachers may feel the need to acknowledge, however briefly, a personal or global disaster to help children put it in an eternal context. A few principles can be useful to keep in mind:

  • God is always stronger than Satan. We need not fear; God is still in charge.
  • While disasters are a big shock to us, they are no surprise to God. He knows everything, from the beginning of time to the end (Moses 1:6).
  • God’s purposes are never frustrated (Doctrine & Covenants 3:1,3). Sometimes I don’t know how, but I do know that God will unfold His plan in this circumstance somehow.
  • In the end, God’s team will win. Of that there is no question. The only question is whose team I will be on in the end. I will stay on God’s winning team (see “Our Greatest Coach,”New Era, November 2014.

For more information, including specific ideas of responding to disasters with acts of service and emergency preparedness tasks, see Feeling safe in the last days on this blog and “Dealing with Disasters,” Ensign, August 2018, 72 (pictured above).

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Filed under Life Lessons, Parent Involvement

Children leading the way


“One morning, a family was gathered for scripture study when the phone rang. The mother picked up the phone, and [the caller] spoke frantically on the other end: ‘Hurry! Turn on the news.’ The day was September 11, 2001. The news told of a horrifying terrorist attack in New York City. The children were shaken. Going to school seemed a little scary now. The parents turned off the TV, and the family knelt to pray. After the prayer, the eight-year-old daughter said, ‘It’s going to be alright. I think the terrorists are just like the Gadianton robbers. We don’t need to be afraid of them.’ Peace replaced fear. As the children left for school, the mother and father turned to each other and said, ‘That’s why we do this every morning'” (“Building Spiritual Patterns” by Karmel and Lloyd Newell, Ensign, August 2018, page 68).

These children led the way in applying the scriptures to real life — all too real that day. Read about a child who led a stranger to stop smoking and a child who had his “individual home evening” when his family was “too busy” for family home evening.

Regardless of the past, children can grow to BE the parent they want to be. See “Steven’s First Future Father’s Day” in English and Spanish. This activity on asks “When you grow up, what kind of parent do you want to be? You can decide now to be a great parent! What can you do to practice these character traits now?”

Thinking of children as leaders sends them the message that you believe in them TODAY — not just believing in the grownups that they will become one day, but their power even as children to be leaders on the way back to our Father in Heaven.

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Filed under Lesson, Life Lessons

Different Kinds of Families

Just as each child is unique, each child’s family is unique. Being sensitive to the different shapes and sizes of families pays rich benefits to the children and teachers alike, with the potential to heal unseen wounds. This great advice comes from the July 2018 Ensign magazine in the “Friend Connection” section:

  • Include stories that show a variety of families. [Note: lessons often invite you to share relevant stories from your culture to illustrate gospel principles. Make sure some of the stories include children in different kinds of families that your children can relate to.]
  • Help children understand how they can contribute to their family’s happiness — even if their family doesn’t seem “ideal” right now. They can look forward to creating a family of their own one day. Each one of us is also part of a loving heavenly family.
  • Teach children that we should not be critical of other families but respectful and inclusive, even when we don’t agree with the choices other families make.

More specific ideas here: All Kinds of Families are Part of Heavenly Father’s plan — and other topics.


The illustration is the cover of the book “Our Heavenly Family, Our Earthly Families” by Caitlin Connolly, Bethany Brady Spalding and McArthur Krishna, available from Amazon and Deseret Book. 


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Filed under Life Lessons, Reaching the One

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.


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Filed under Discipline, Life Lessons, Reaching the One

PSA: new book by PrimaryinZion co-founder

available on

Public Service Announcement (PSA): You know about Sunday Lessons and Activities for Kids, the book that was born on this blog (read the backstory here!). You may also know about Marci’s second book, Girls’ Camp: Ideas for Today’s Leaders. Well, her next book has arrived!

Check out Fifty Five Days of Faith: The Remarkable Story of Dick and Marsha Lavin. It’s the story of a multiracial family that joined the church in 1978, just fifty-five days BEFORE the revelation on priesthood was announced. Read more here, including reviews by by Cathy Stokes, Margaret Blair Young, Romane Armand, Paul Furse, Jacqueline Nagy and Marilyn Nelson.

A portion of the proceeds from sales of this book supports Operation Underground Railroad, which rescues children in 17 countries from sex trafficking.

For related general ideas about teaching children, see


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Is Anything Getting Through? Proof #3

Sometimes, weary Primary leaders and parents wonder if anything they’re saying is getting through. I’m here to tell you it IS. In an earlier post I wrote about a Bible story I heard when I was age 7, then not again until eleven years later: see Is Anything Getting Through? Proof #1. I also wrote about my children using scripture language in ordinary conversation: see Is Anything Getting Through? Proof #2.

Here’s Proof #3. A friend asked me, “What is your favorite Primary memory?” There are many, but a highlight is when Sarah was in my CTR-7 class. Studying church history, we learned that some people tried to steal the golden plates. “Why were they trying so hard to get the plates away from Joseph Smith?”

Spencer: “Because they wanted to change the words of the translation and try to trick Joseph.”

Me: “That is indeed what happened, but can anyone think of any other reason why some people wanted to get the plates so much that they would try to hurt Joseph?” (No response.)

I pointed to my finger. “See this wedding ring? It cost us about $500, maybe more. Just this little band of gold.”

The children’s eyes widened. Stephanie blurted out, “The gold plates must have been worth millions!”

Me: “Maybe not millions, but certainly a lot of money in a village full of hard-working farmers.”

Sarah, with rapture in her eyes: “And the Book of Mormon is worth more than that!” She said it breathlessly, from her heart, from a true testimony of the worth of God’s word.


I personally have been thinking a lot about what you can’t buy with money. Some things you can’t buy, but are priceless far beyond precious metals, such as happiness, peace of mind, a sense of purpose, a sense of direction, and most importantly. . .






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“A Service is a Service no Matter How Small”

Did you notice the “Chalk Service” idea in this month’s November 2018 Friend magazine? Nathan H., age 10, Arizona USA, suggested doing “nice sidewalk chalk messages at homes of people who needed encouragement.” His motto is “a service is a service, no matter how small.”

With your bishopric’s permission, you might like to try the same idea at church! Pulling in plenty of adult helpers, you could bring the children outside to draw on the church sidewalk. They could write a welcome home message to a returning missionary, or draw what they have learned. This is a good conversation starter on the way home for children to share gospel concepts they are discussing in Primary with their families. Be sure to have a backup rain plan!

Looking for more easy chalk ideas? Check out Chalk talk – inside and outside!

More service ideas? See Serving as Jesus Served: Sharing Time project or family activity and Pint-Sized Service Projects , a free download of a chapter from the book Sunday Lessons and Activities for Kids, the book that was born on this blog!

It’s never too early for children to learn that service is “the only true and lasting happiness. Service is not something we endure on this earth so we can earn the right to live in the celestial kingdom. Service is the very fiber of which an exalted life in the celestial kingdom is made.” (Marion G. Romney, “The Celestial Nature of Self-Reliance,” October 1982).





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Filed under Activity, Life Lessons

Feeling safe in the last days

When I read in the Friend magazine how children responded to scary news, I felt alternately relieved and deflated. See The Lemonade Stand that Changed Everything, a cheery title for an article about how children responded to news of a terrorist attack by doing a service project to support first responders. Also read “What’s on Your Mind?” about how to help a child feeling scared when they hear bad news.

I felt relieved that church magazine writers are responding to needs of today’s children. I felt deflated because I wanted today’s children to worry about nothing more serious than loud thunderstorms at night.

Teaching children to respond to bad things with acts of service is a non-intuitive but enormously Christlike response. Notice that the Friend article discusses scary things on every level — a sick family member, someone being bullied, people needing help in my neighborhood — as well as natural disasters and terrorist attacks.

Read more ideas in this post: Helping children understand violence and tragedy

For more about bullying, see Bullying: Having Difficult Conversations with Parents and Bullying in Primary

For more about children whose homes may put them at risk, see Honoring Parents – even if parents make poor choices?

As always, the Lord gets the last word: “Wherefore, be of good cheer, and do not fear, for I the Lord am with you, and will stand by you” (Doctrine and Covenants 68:6).

God bless the valiant children of the last days, working to build the kingdom until He comes. And God bless the faithful leaders and parents, saved for the last days to teach children how to do just that.


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Filed under Bullying, Life Lessons