According to Tom Thunell, expectations for children during LDS general conference can be defined by a simple formula.
"I would expect the level of participation according to their age," said Thunell, an instructor at the Salt Lake University LDS Institute of Religion.
For example, Thunell's granddaughter, at age 8, was old enough to attend a session in the Conference Center, but grandpa knew she might need some help staying attentive during the proceedings. So Thunell handed her a pad of paper and a pencil and asked her to draw pictures of each speaker.
Creating tasks designed to hold children's attention is one way to facilitate a better conference experience for both kids and parents. Even younger children with short attention spans can benefit from conference when parents give them something to look for.
"They're kind of at least tuning into the talk for something kind of specific," said Ross Flom, an associate professor of psychology at Brigham Young University. "It kind of keeps them engaged."
One activity Flom suggests is giving children a word to listen for and having them mark on a piece of paper every time they hear it. They can be words that kids learn in Primary, such as "Savior," "prophet" or "forgiveness." Parents can also play along.
Thunell used a similar game when his children were younger, asking them to pay attention and write down questions, anything from "what was your favorite talk" to what color of tie a person was wearing. The questions were compiled into a quiz, which was given during the next family home evening.
It's a way to get children involved in conference on their level without forcing it, Thunell says. It also helps instill an appreciation for the significance of the event.
"The most important thing for me is that the children see how important conference is to their parents, and then as parents they share their feelings and their love for the prophet," Thunell said.
As children grow, parents can take steps to assure that the messages of conference leave a long-term impression. Roger C. Manning, an instructor at the Logan LDS Institute of Religion, used to develop games for his children designed to help them become familiar with the general authorities. When his kids were older, they were asked to pay attention to the principles that were being taught and were given the opportunity to share them during family home evening. The family also prayed together prior to conference, and the kids were asked to have their rooms cleaned and homework completed beforehand.
"When we do that, it just seems to go better," said Manning, who has two children who are married, one away at school and two still at home. "We try to ask our kids to prepare spiritually."
Another practice Manning implemented was getting an individual copy of the conference report for each of his children. Because listeners can get a little "saturated" after four or five conference sessions, it's "nice to go back and reread," Manning said. "It's an ongoing process."We just have to continue having general conference for the next six months in our home."