What do you use to teach your children to pray?
A great deal of what children do, and subsequently learn, comes from watching those around them. They mimic you and those who are a part of their days. They watch you use a phone and they want to put the phone to their ear or open an app. They see you use a fork and they become discontent with being fed and want to use a fork themselves. These things become natural to them and kids eventually become comfortable using a phone and managing a fork. I think prayer is similar in that if kids see prayer as a natural part of your life, it will not be so foreign to them.
Prayer is conversation with God and it can be done in many ways. That is to say, the Bible talks of many postures but these are guides, not rules. Scripture also shows us how Jesus modelled prayer to help the disciples learn to pray. So, modelling prayer & exposing your kids to prayer, will help them see it as a natural part of your life.
There are a couple of things that we did with our kids to help make prayer a part of our family routine. Mealtime always began with prayer and it still does. We also added “thank You fors” to our evening ritual. Don’t let ritual and routine throw you into a tizzy.. I do not think prayer is a ritual nor do I encourage adding a stressful portion to what may already be a tough routine. But the point that my kids reiterated to me when I asked them the questions of teaching kids to pray, was that “the habit was huge.” Making prayer a part of our routine meant it became natural and comfortable and a necessary part of their day.
Mealtime prayers are fairly self-explanatory. They can be simple by thanking God for the food and the time together. I would encourage taking turns to help it become comfortable for all. There are times when prayers may prompt laughter, but don’t worry about that. I think God created humor!
“Thank You fors” were done before the youngest went to bed, as she had the earliest bed time. We found that the landing at the top of the stairs was a good meeting place. Each person would say something about their day for which they were thankful. In truth, we had to limit our youngest as she could run a really long list. The list was then incorporated into the prayer. We would take turns saying the prayer, but it helped give the kids a framework of what to say to God, as well as establish a grateful mindset. This “thank You for” time took maybe 10 minutes and even as our kids got into high school, it was a part of our family life. When the oldest went off to college, he looked forward to rejoining the time on the top of the landing and we even included him on the phone a time or two. This could easily be done with “high/lows”. Each person can share a high and a low of their day. This not only offers our thanks and our needs to God, but helps the family know the hearts of each other. Our” thank You fors” and high/lows weren’t necessarily deeply spiritual. Life is made up of daily stuff and God is waiting to hear whatever is on our hearts. I would encourage honesty. If your child is thankful they got to watch their favorite show or that they didn’t have to eat peas for supper, that’s okay. Just as conversation between friends develops over time, conversation with God develops as time is spent with Him. .
When you see something during that day that makes you happy, thank God right then and there and let your kids hear you. When you might feel like you’re losing it, stop right then and there and let God know you need His help. This type of action shows your kids you can talk to God anytime, anywhere.
Your kids need not hear all of your prayers and if prayer is not natural to you, don’t be discouraged or sink into the parenting lows and stay there. A tool that we used with our kids, and I still use at times today is the ACTS acronym. A: Adoration – Praise Him for who He is, acknowledge some of His attributes. C: Confession – Share your heart. Where have you messed up? Ask for forgiveness. T: Thanksgiving – Tell God what you are thankful for – He is good! S: Supplication – Give God the needs on your heart. Let Him hear from you about your needs and the needs of others. The ACTS tool may be complicated to explain to little ones, but can be modeled and expanded on as your kids grow. There are countless scriptures that can be connected to the ACTS acronym and may encourage some great discussion as your kids grow.