A few weeks ago, a mother in our ward mentioned her concern about how children bear testimony, that they sometimes say that they know things that they might not yet know. Since that time, I have felt like I should share something with you. Back in 1997, I was a bishop’s counselor in a ward in Oregon. This same question came up, and I was asked by our bishop to address our ward. I studied and prayed about it—and came away with a very different conclusion than the one I started with. Here is a key scripture:
Shortly after Jesus cast the moneychangers out of the temple, on the day of His Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, some complained when they heard the children’s testimonies.
And when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying in the temple, and saying, Hosanna to the Son of David [they were bearing their testimonies]; they were sore displeased, and said unto him, Hearest thou what these say? And Jesus saith unto them, Yea; have ye never read, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise? —Matthew 21:15-16
Originally, we had been concerned about the children saying trite things or getting giggly when they bore their testimonies. But after I read these verses from Matthew, the Spirit changed my focus.
I realized that we need to listen carefully when children speak at the pulpit. I know it may sometimes sound like they say the same things over and over—but I realized that they are “playing testimony,” just like playing house, or dolls, or trucks, which is an important way to learn.
While our children’s words may be painfully familiar at times, they also manage to say and do remarkable things. For example, one little girl got up last year and said, “I’m thankful that Jesus gave me a family.” Those words just pierced me, and I wrote them down in my little brown notebook.
Another young girl who is normally quiet in a crowd strode up to the pulpit all by herself, with no prompting, to the astonishment of her parents. What she did took great courage, and that courage no doubt came by the power of the Spirit to her heart. So we should “suffer the little children and forbid them not” because we never want to get in the way of how the Spirit may be touching them.
We should help our children understand when and where it’s appropriate to bear testimony, too. For example, it’s not always appropriate for one person to bear testimony every fast Sunday. That goes for adults, youth, or children. In addition to fast and testimony meeting, we can use other occasions, such as family home evening, Primary, or a family member’s baptism as a place to gain confidence in expressing feelings. These are all things that we can and should make a part of our family discussions, and it would be a great topic for family home evening.
It is also important that parents teach children to speak from their hearts and to not just say things that are merely rehearsed. I also think we need to teach them to pray as they go up to bear their testimonies, that the Spirit will guide their words. One last thing: It’s best if the child can bear testimony by themselves, without the prompting of parents or siblings.
I look forward to hearing their testimonies tomorrow.