I decided this year that our children are old enough to play conference bingo. (I don't know who the person was who first thought up this idea, but she was a genius!) Simple enough concept, a bingo card filled with words that might be said during the talks, a handful of buttons or beans for markers, and a big old bowl of fun sized candies perfect for bribing small children to listen quietly for two whole hours!
This was a tradition for my family when I was growing up, and it taught me many things. First that even small children are capable of sitting quietly if there is a promise of sugar at the end of it. Second, natural consequences: I remember that my parents never forced us to sit and listen to conference, but a child who sat through all four sessions would probably have a large amount of candy and a child who listened to a talk or two and then went out to play would only have a few pieces. This wasn't done with guilt or meanness, just a clearly stated rule that the candy was only given out for a bingo. Third, I started to really look forward to conference. As a child it was mostly for the game and the candy, but as I got older I realized the wonderful messages and spirit of the weekend were an even "sweeter" reward.
I am sure somebody reading this will probably get up on their high horse and think it is a horrible thing to "bribe" my children into doing something they should be doing for righteousness sake. To them I say, "Okay." Today was the first time in years that I was able to listen to a whole session of conference without threats, tears or tantrums, and have my children in the room at the same time. And they were listening, really listening. Sure, right now it might be for the candy, but they will hear the messages and lessons and those will linger long after the chocolate is all gone.
Case in point, during a talk on repentance my seven year old looked very contemplative. Afterwards he asked me, "Mom? If somebody did a bunch of bad stuff during the first part of the year, and then they got baptized during the middle of the year, how would that affect their standing with Santa?" So, obviously we have some more learning to do, but at least he's got the basic concept down...