Our kids will naturally begin to do what we do. Have you ever heard something come out of your child’s mouth and you thought “Yikes! Is that really what I sound like?!”
And then there are moments when your preschooler repeats something you’ve said and it just blesses your heart and makes you want to text your mom and tell her that you’re actually killing it at this parenting thing!
The other night we had a friend over for dinner. In our house, we pray before we eat, and so the kids waited patiently (odd!) while everyone settled into their seats, and our usual question of “who wants to pray” was met with a unexpected “I do!” from our 4 year old.
In complete astonishment and absolute amazement, we sat there and listened to him recite the Lord’s Prayer verbatim. It was a proud moment for sure. We have periodically said the Lord’s Prayer before a meal, but it’s definitely not something we do every single day. And it’s not even one of those verses we’ve had the kids memorize. So for him to say the entire thing, on his own, without any help, was utterly amazing!
When we do things on a regular basis, our kids pick up on that and they naturally do it too. Praying is something that is essential to our faith and in our home. We make it a priority. We try not to force our children to do it if they don’t want to, but we do give them ample opportunity to pray, whether it is on their own or repeating after us (like with the Lord’s prayer).
This week my 2 year old was sick; runny nose, fever, just a general sense of not feeling well. My 4 and 5 year old decided they wanted to take care of her, so when I was putting her down for a nap, they took turns telling her a story and singing her a “goodnight song”. As they were kissing her goodnight, my 4 year old said “we should pray for her” and then laid hands on her little body and said “Dear God, please bless her and help her to feel better. Amen!”
His little heart is full of compassion for his siblings and a love for the Lord. But how do we cultivate that? And how do we even get to the point where their instinct is prayer?
I believe that we need to model for our children the act of prayer and we need to point back to God when prayers are answered. It’s hard for little ones to understand what prayer is and why we do it when they can’t tangibly see the result.
This may seem like a silly example, but I believe this was the turning point for our 4 year old when it comes to understanding prayer: It was Halloween and it was raining. The forecast was rain all day and evening. The kids were bummed because I told them if it was still raining after dinner, we wouldn’t be able to go trick-or-treating. I mean, we aren’t die hard Halloween fans. We just love dressing up and getting free candy! For us, rain = no go.
I told the kids we should pray that it stops raining so we can go. My husband thought it was silly to pray for Halloween. And yeah, I get it. But it’s fun for the kids, and who knows, God works in mysterious ways.
All day it rained. No let up. When I picked the kids up from preschool, we talked about the rain and how we probably wouldn’t get to go trick-or-treating, but we should pray that the rain would stop so we could go. I could hear the kids praying in the back of the van.
I checked the forecast again. Still supposed to rain all evening.
And then! Right after dinner, as if on cue, the rain stopped.
Completely stopped. It was still pretty wet outside, and looked a little ominous. But zero rain.
I was overjoyed!
Not because I love Halloween or I’m a sugar addict or dressing the kids up in matching costumes is the reason my heart beats (it is).
But because this was a clear answer to the kids prayer, and I could tangibly point this back to God.
Okay, yes, I get that some will say it was just a coincidence. Or even praying for something like Halloween is silly and trivial (and is it even Christian to participate in Halloween anyway?!). But the truth is, it DID point back to God and the kids were able to see that God cares about everything, even the little things.
When you are teaching your children to pray, eventually they will need to see the fruit of their prayers. Otherwise, they won’t understand. They won’t know what prayer really is or why we do it. As they get older, we can explain more in depth about what prayer is, that God doesn’t operate on our timeline, that prayer is multi-faceted, and even quite mysterious.
But for now, we stick with the basics.
What is prayer // Prayer is simply talking to God. We can talk to God like we talk to each other.
What do we pray // When we talk to God, we thank Him. He has given us everything, so we can thank Him for everything. We can ask Him for help. If we are sick, we can ask Him to make us better. If we are scared, we can ask Him to take away our scaries.
When do we pray // Make it part of your normal routine. Pick a certain time of day that you always pray. In our house, it’s before dinner. Other people pray at bedtime. My husband and I pray together each morning before he leaves for work. The kids are invited to join us, but regardless if they do or not, they see and hear us praying together regularly. Find a way to incorporate it into your family each day, and watch how it impacts your children.
How do we get kids to pray // Like any new thing, kids are often hesitant to try it. Start off by simply praying yourself. Tell your kids what you’re doing -- “I am going to pray now, and thank God for what He has given us”. Let them see that it is a normal part of your life. Incorporate prayer in regularly. When your toddler is afraid to go to bed, say “Let’s pray about this and ask Jesus for help. Dear Jesus, Eliza is feeling scared in her room right now. Please take away all of the scaries and throw them far far away. Help Eliza to not be scared because you are here with her and you are protecting her. Thank you Jesus! Amen”.
Then begin asking them if they’d like to pray. If they say no, that’s okay. Don’t force the issue. Try doing a corporate prayer (like the Lord’s Prayer) and have the kids repeat after you. Or have them repeat something simple like “Dear God, thank you for this food. Amen”. Keep it simple.
It took a long time for our kids to start praying on their own. You have to build their confidence. And let them know that they can talk to God about anything.
One of my favorite things about teaching our kids to pray is actually what I have learned from this experience. At first, you teach the basics. You look for opportunities to pray // little things, big things, silly things (Halloween, anybody?), all the things. And suddenly you begin praying about all of your normal daily things, because it’s become a habit to take everything to God.
Before starting this whole prayer thing with our kids, I got in a prayer slump. I would pray before meals, pray before bed, and pray when a friend asked me to. I would pray for big things, or life's crazy circumstances, or just things that were out of my control. But what praying with the kids has taught me, is that God really does care about the little things.
When you ask my kids what prayer is, they will say it’s just talking to God. How quickly I forget that! Yes, prayer is simply talking to God. I don’t just need to pray when I need something. I need to pray/talk to God throughout the day, just like I would with my husband or a close friend.
So if you’re trying to figure out how to teach your little ones to pray, simply start by praying! And before you know it, they will be the ones saying “let’s pray about that!”.