Family home evening, family scripture study, and family prayer – we know these as the core building blocks that shape lasting foundations for our families. We also know that the family is under attack and Satan is working harder than ever to destroy lives by simple and often unnoticed devices. There are other parenting tools that are often overlooked…tools that can have a profound effect on the well-being of our children.
Recently I published a post entitled “4 Surprising Mistakes LDS Families Make” which received an overwhelming display of positive feedback and requests for more ideas. Today I examine 5 commonly underused parenting tools that can have a significant and lasting positive effect on our children and families.
As much as possible be fully present for the transition times during your children's day. Infant specialist Magda Gerber wisely said, "Whenever you care, do it with absolutely full attention. If you pay half attention all the time, that's never full attention. [Children] are then always half hungry for attention."  100% attention some of the time is better than 50% attention 100% of the time. It seems it would be wise to divide our time, not our attention.
For an infant or toddler, this looks like the caregiving times during the day: feeding, diapering, bathing, dressing, etc. For older kids, this means being there when they leave for school and return home, come and go for activities, as well as meal times, bedtimes, etc. For teens, are you home (and awake) when they return from a date, dance, or party?
Consider how many times your children come and go from home, how many times the baby wakes in the morning, how many times you sit down for dinner together. These are the times that are so frequent and often intimate, that promote natural opportunities for quality time. All of these hours of interaction have a cumulative effect on your child. How will your child look back on them? How will she feel about herself in regard these interactions? Over time the sum total of behaviors add up, either positively or negatively, to influence us. 
2. Make Time for Family History Work
In a March 2013 article in The New York Times entitled “The Stories That Bind Us,” author Bruce Feiler shared psychologists’ findings that the more children knew about their family history, the better they were able to handle stressful situations. The reasons were that the children realized they were a part of something bigger than themselves, they understood their family overcame many ups and downs, and they believed they could overcome difficulties too. 
In addition to the positive psychological benefits listed, family history work can also strengthen the parent/child bond and bring in the Spirit to help us overcome Satan. Our ancestors that we've done the work for are also better able to protect us, pray for us, and help us on our side.
3. Protect Against Pornography
The world teaches that pornography is okay to view and since everybody does it, it must be normal. The full truth, which comes from the Lord, is that pornography is never okay, it is highly addictive, it destroys individuals and families, and your children will be exposed to it at some point.
Sister Reeves from the Relief Society General Presidency taught us how we can protect our families from pornography: "We as parents and leaders need to counsel with our children and youth on an ongoing basis, listening with love and understanding. They need to know the dangers of pornography and how it overtakes lives, causing loss of the Spirit, distorted feelings, deceit, damaged relationships, loss of self-control, and nearly total consumption of time, thought, and energy. The greatest filter in the world … is the personal internal filter that comes from a deep and abiding testimony." 
Be aware of this evil. Counsel within your family on how best to protect your home, create a plan, and prepare to have ongoing conversations with your children.
4. Let Children Make Mistakes
My husband and I say that our home is a safe place for our son to fail. He is allowed choices and autonomy that correspond with his developmental level. The idea is that as he makes smaller mistakes within our home that are met with compassion and loving correction, he will avoid larger mistakes with weightier consequences outside the home.
Elder Larry Y. Wilson of the Seventy stated, "Our children are in our homes for a limited time. If we wait until they walk out the door to turn over to them the reins of their moral agency, we have waited too long. They will not suddenly develop the ability to make wise decisions if they have never been free to make any important decisions while in our homes. Such children often either rebel against this compulsion or are crippled by an inability to make any decisions on their own. Wise parents prepare their children to get along without them. They provide opportunities for growth as children acquire the spiritual maturity to exercise their agency properly. And yes, this means children will sometimes make mistakes and learn from them."
Sometimes parents confuse obedience with control. There is a balance between excessive control and passiveness. We want our children to obey and to make good choices, but often times we are quick to threaten a punishment in order to demand obedience. This results in a missed opportunity for valuable teaching and learning.
Elder Wilson continues, "We lose our right to the Lord’s Spirit and to whatever authority we have from God when we exercise control over another person in an unrighteous manner. We may think such methods are for the good of the one being “controlled.” But anytime we try to compel someone to righteousness who can and should be exercising his or her own moral agency, we are acting unrighteously. When setting firm limits for another person is in order, those limits should always be administered with loving patience and in a way that teaches eternal principles." 
5. Connect and Reconnect Often
Throughout the years of working with children and their families, I've come to learn that most behavior problems stem from a disconnection between parent and child. Children are hardwired to connect with their parents and the younger they are, the more frequent they need it throughout the day. Connection refuels children, strengthens trust between parent and child, and invites cooperation. The key to connection is following your child's lead. In our family we have coined the phrase "special time" which means one-on-one time our son has with one of us and for a predetermined amount of time we will do whatever he wants (within reasonable limits) with our full attention.
President Henry B. Eyring shares how to connect: "There are other ways to reach out; you are already engaged in many of them. Your habits of family prayer and scripture reading will create more lasting memories and greater changes of heart than you may realize now. Even apparently temporal activities, such as attending an athletic event or watching a movie, can shape a child’s heart. What matters is not the activity but the feelings that come as you do it. I have discovered a good test for identifying activities with the potential to make a great difference in a young person’s life. It is that they suggest the activity out of an interest they feel has come to them as a gift from God. I know that is possible from my own experience." 
 Elevating Child Care - a Guide to Respectful Parenting, by Janet Lansbury
 Your Self-Confident Baby, by Magda Gerber
 Family Home Evening - Family History Stories
 Protection from Pornography - a Christ-focused Home, by Linda S. Reeves
 Only Upon the Principles of Righteousness, by Elder Larry Y. Wilson
 Help Them Aim High, by Henry B. Eyring
25 Mistakes LDS Parents Make and How to Avoid Them, by Randal A. Wright
Education is Key to Protecting Families from Pornography
Overcoming Pornography Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ
Jefra Rees is the wife of a loving husband and the mother of a young son with Sensory Processing Disorder. She holds a Bachelor's Degree in Child Development and also has a Master's Degree in Early Childhood Special Education. She has worked with children and families in a variety of settings, but her greatest work is that which is done in her own home.