The Art of Teaching Your Child to Pray
“Now I lay me down to sleep…” begins a very old poem that brings images of innocent children kneeling at their bedside, eyes closed, heads bowed, and hands folded. Few of us would deny the importance of prayer in building a strong Christian faith. But in our busy lives, parents can be confused on how or what they should do.
The Lord’s prayer was Jesus’s answer to the disciples’ request, “Lord, teach us to pray.” We can use that prayer to provide some practical ways we can teach our children to pray.
Our Father in Heaven should be introduced to our children as naturally as an earthly father. If we wait until they are old enough to recite prayers themselves, we’ve missed a special time to build a relationship between our children and God. Prayer with your children can begin the day they are born. Infants love when we speak to them, and some of this talking can be simple conversations with God. Your baby will listen just as intently as when you baby talk or recite nursery rhymes.
As parents, it is both our responsibility and privilege to pray for our families. In addition to our personal prayer time, let your children hear you pray for them. When holding them on your lap, embracing them in a hug, or just patting them in their crib, thank God for them and ask for God’s blessing on them. Even infants can come to expect this as part of their bedtime ritual.
All too soon, your growing babies will be moving like slippery worms throughout the house. During their travels, they will meet with a multitude of hazards that can result in a bump or a scrape. This can provide another time of sharing prayer with your child. Although you know it’s minor, it hurts, and a quick prayer that God will relieve the pain, accompanied by a hug, is a wonderful way of continually reminding your children that they have a Father in Heaven who cares for them.
Hallowed (holy) be your name. When our attitude toward God is reverent, our children will mirror our feelings. We can foster this by encouraging prayers of praise. Read some of the shorter Psalms with your child. List things together for which you are thankful, then turn the list into a prayer.
Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven. This is a difficult concept, especially in our culture of independence. Let your children hear you seek God’s will for your life, and they will find it easier to understand that God is not a heavenly Santa Claus, but a Father so loving that He always chooses what is best for us, even though it may not be what we have requested.
Bedtime prayers can be an intimate time to help your children in seeking God’s will. If you pray with them as infants, it will be easy to make the transition to informal, conversational prayer as they learn to talk. Kneeling, sitting, or snuggled under the blankets, review their day. “What was your favorite part of today? Let’s thank God for that. What made you sad? Tell God about it. Who did something special for you? Thank God for that person.”
As you discuss their day, help your children to understand that God cares about all areas of their lives and will lead them if they seek, your will be done.
Give us today our daily bread…and butter, milk, meat, and vegetables. Children are creatures of habit and once you establish a routine of prayer before meals they will remember when you forget. Even an infant will put his hands on his high chair tray, jabber a long string of unintelligible syllables and punctuate it with “Amen.” Toddlers love to say, “Thank you, God, for…” and list all the foods on the table.
Older children and their parents can make this a family prayer time. Since many of us have hectic schedules, if there is one meal when everyone is gathered around the table (even at a restaurant) take a few minutes to share. Does someone have a problem you can pray about together? Is there a friend or relative who is sick? Is there a stressful situation at mom or dad’s job or at school? Our “daily bread” consists of far more than just the variety we put butter on.
Forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven our debtors—even if he did it to me first. You’re certain to hear when your children feel someone has offended them. This is an excellent opportunity to discuss and encourage forgiveness.
Children are not so quick to announce when they have offended someone else, but parents will often be aware. If the situation calls for discipline, prayer can be an integral part of it. Explain to your children what they did, why it was wrong, and why they received a consequence. Then pray with them. If they are very little, you can ask God to forgive them and to strengthen them to obey. If they can talk, they can say, “I’m sorry, God. Help me obey.” When the incident involves someone else, make sure your children know they need to ask the other person’s forgiveness too. Assure your child that God’s forgiveness is immediate and complete.
After your children disobey is an opportunity to pray, Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. When you hear of other children’s disobedience, pray with your children to be given strength to withstand temptation. As they leave for school or activities, take a minute and ask God to be with them. Whatever happens throughout the day, your child will carry the warm glow of that prayer.
With only a little direction, your children’s trust and faith in God will become an example even to you. They will see God’s handiwork in a hundred places to which we adults have long had our eyes closed. They will firmly believe that whatever the situation, “God can fix it!” And He can.
Amen. Or so be it. That’s the attitude we should take to our children’s prayers. As children learn to pray, we will be amused, touched, and maybe shocked by some of their ideas. But when they say amen, it is not the time to correct their theology. Let their prayers be their own conversations with God, and if need be, discuss it at another time.
You need no special degree, no advanced education to teach your children to pray. If you have a sincere desire for your children to know the Lord, the opportunities are endless. You only need to take advantage of them. The result will be children who are building an everlasting relationship with Our Father in Heaven.