In the LDS community, I am often asked, “How can I prepare my son or daughter for full-time missionary service?” As a therapist who sees many teens who have a mission goal in mind, I look for 3 factors that may determine success in meeting the demands of mission service.
1. Social Skills
As parents, we often focus on our child’s G.P.A, but what does their “Citizenship” grades indicate? As a parent myself, when I attend parent/teacher conferences I ask, “How does my child interact with others? Are they kind and helpful with their peers? Are they respectful to you, the teacher?”. Social skills are paramount in relating well to others when sharing the gospel, getting along with companions, (24/7!) and showing respect and good communication with interacting with zone leaders, mission presidents and all their peers in the MTC.
2. Ability to finish hard tasks
My colleague has a sign in her office stating: “I can do hard things”. Teach your child to finish what they start, no matter how small. If a child asks to be transferred to another school class due to not liking the teacher or having no friends in the class, try to help them stick it out rather than bail them out. Quitting sports, musical instruments or hobbies when they become difficult, should not be an option. Support them with skills to complete tasks, not demand it.
3. Pain Tolerance
Teach your child to tolerate pain. This may sound uncaring, but this is a life skill and mission skill that is essential. Rescuing your child from feeling the pain of losing a lacrosse game, for example, is not helpful. Allow them to express disappointment, sadness, and feelings of inadequacy. Then give them coping skills like doing things different next time or looking at strengths or weaknesses they would like to extinguish or develop. I always get concerned when parents say “my child’s team is undefeated! They haven’t lost a game”. We all enjoy winning, but do we know how to lose and cope with those loses effectively? Rejection especially is very distressing but necessary to tolerate when in the mission field and hearing time and time again, “I’m not interested in your religion!” Or worse.
Raising a child with good social skills, the ability to finish tasks and ways to tolerate distress are all skills necessary to serve a full time mission successfully.
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