Teaching children to pray is a vital part of introducing them to Jesus and reinforcing their relationship with God. Our Lord gave us prayer so we could communicate with him directly, and getting children comfortable with prayer helps them to understand that God is always close and accessible.
When to Start Teaching About Prayer
Children can start learning to pray even before they can speak in coherent sentences simply by allowing them to see you praying (more about this later) and by inviting them to pray with you as best they can. As with any good habit, you'll want to start reinforcing prayer as a regular part of life as early as possible. Once a child can communicate verbally, they can learn to pray on their own either out loud or silently.
But, if your Christian walk began after you started raising a family, it's never too late for kids to learn about the importance of prayer.
Teach Prayer as a Conversation
Be sure that children understand that prayer is simply a conversation with God, one that is held with respect for his unending love and power, but that is spoken in our own words. Matthew 6:7 says, "When you pray, don't babble on and on as people of other religions do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again." (NLT) In other words, we need not pray with any formula, and we can and should speak to God in our own words.
Some Christian religions teach specific prayers, such as the The Lord's Prayer, which was given to us by Jesus. Children can start practicing and learning these at an appropriate age. The concepts behind these prayers must be taught so that the prayers aren't recited without meaning. If you teach these prayers, it should be in addition to, and not instead of showing them how to talk to God naturally.
Let Your Kids See You Praying
The best way to begin educating your children about prayer is to pray in their presence. Look for opportunities to practice prayer in front of them, just as you would seek out instances to teach them about manners, good sportsmanship or humility. While praying in the morning or before bed is a common and valuable practice, God wants us to come to him with all things and at any time, so let kids see you praying throughout the day for a variety of needs.
When praying, try to keep the details and words appropriate to your child's age level, so younger kids won't be scared by serious situations.
Ways Children Can Pray
Prayers for a good day at school, for pets, friends, and local and world events are perfect ideas for kids of any age.
Show children that there is no prescribed length to prayer. Quick prayers such as asking for help with choices, for blessings on a birthday party or for protection and safe travels before going on a trip are ways to show kids that God is interested in all aspects of our lives. Another type of quick prayer to model is as simple as saying something like, "Lord be with me," before getting into a challenging situation or, "Thank you, Father," when learning that a problem will be easier to work out than expected.
Longer prayers are better taught to older children who can sit still for a few minutes. These are a great way to teach them about God's all-encompassing greatness. Here's a good way to model these prayers:
- Start off by thanking God for being with you and for providing for your family, thank him for his great, unconditional love, and express your reverence for all that he is.
- Ask God to forgive your mistakes. James 5:16 says, "Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results." (NLT)
- Then, either present your petitions to God, continue thanking and praising him for specific provisions and blessings, or do both.
Some children will feel shy about praying out loud at first, and will say they can't think of anything to pray about. If this happens, you can first pray for something, then have the child finish your prayer. For example, thank God for grandma and grandpa and then your child can thank God for specific things about the grandparents, whether that's grandma's yummy cookies or a productive fishing trip with grandpa.
Another way to overcome shyness is to simply have them repeat your prayers, but in their own words. For example, thank God for keeping people safe during a storm and ask him to help people who have lost their homes. Then, have your child pray for the same thing, but not parroting your words.
Reinforce that we can come to God with all things, and no request before God is too small or insignificant. Prayers are very personal, and a child's worries and concerns change at different ages. So, encourage your child to talk to God about whatever is on his or her mind. God loves to hear prayers for bike rides, a frog in the garden or a successful tea party with dolls.
Shelley Elmblad, a freelance writer and contributor for About.com, has worked in various capacities of Christian ministry. As a parent, her goal is to teach her daughter how to stay connected to her faith in today's world of conflicting values. Knowing the challenges of Christian parenting, Shelley hopes to share some of her experience with other parents who want to raise their children according to biblical principles. For more information, visit Shelley's bio page.