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One of the greatest privileges and responsibilities we have as Christian parents is to teach our children the joy and duty of prayer. But how do we instil in our kids something we often find so difficult to do ourselves? Here are some suggestions that we have found helpful with our four young children (currently aged 2-9 years):
- Teach Your Children What Prayer Is. Prayer is simply talking to God. There are no perfect words to speak or ideal expressions to use when we come to God. We just come to our heavenly Father as we are, in Jesus’ name and on the basis of what He has done for us, and speak to Him. And God loves it when children come to Him (Matt. 19:14)!
- Let Them See You Pray. Children generally follow what they see their parents doing. Our children should see us praying at all kinds of times – both fixed (for example, meal times, bedtime, etc.) and unfixed times (for example, in urgent situations, for people in need, etc.). Hopefully, they should also ‘catch’ us in prayer regularly!
- Start Them Young. It’s never too early to start teaching our children to pray. Ideally from their very earliest days, they would have seen their parents closing their eyes before mealtimes or before bed. Even at a young age, they can be taught to join along by folding their hands and bowing their heads. In the very early days of talking kids can be taught a few words to say by heart, until they can formulate their own thoughts and sentences as they grow older.
- Explain What You Are Doing And Why. Children wonder why we bow our heads, close our eyes, fold our hands, pray in Jesus’ name, say ‘amen’ at the end of our prayers, and pray regularly at certain times of the day. It’s amazing how much we can teach our kids about the theology of prayer just by explaining the simple practices we follow in prayer every day!
- Teach Them About God’s Heart. Ultimately prayer is all about relating to God. The quality of our prayer lives is directly connected to our knowledge of God and our intimacy with Him. Over the course of their growing-up years—through much instruction and many experiences—we must teach our children about the heart of God: that He is powerful, all-knowing and sovereign, that He is our Father, and that He loves us more than we can ever imagine. Our kids’ understanding of God’s character will be the foundation of their prayer lives for decades to come, so we need to build that foundation well.
- Memorize Prayers From The Bible. The Bible is the basis of our prayer lives. Not only does the Bible tell us about the God we are relating with through prayer, but it also contains hundreds of actual prayers. These prayers—including the prayers of Jesus and Paul, as well as the whole book of Psalms—offer us examples and templates for our own prayers. Memorizing the Lord’s Prayer, Psalm 23, and other simple prayers from the Bible provides our children with a biblical pattern for prayer.
- Make It Interesting! Children learn better when something is stimulating and fun, and prayer is no different. Here are some things we have done to add interest to our kids’ prayer lives: sticking prayer cards on our fridge of orphan children that we support and unreached people groups; writing daily prayer requests on chits and putting them in a jar, so the kids can pick one randomly each evening to pray for; going around and each family member mentioning one thing to praise God for (sometimes known as ‘popcorn’ prayer). With a little bit of effort, we all can come up with some creative ideas to make prayer interesting for our children!
- Make The Most Of Disciplinary Times. Moments of discipline (after they have sinned or disobeyed in some way) offer us a unique chance to teach our children about prayer. Kids’ hearts are very sensitive during these times, and they may feel guilty, afraid, rejected, or hurt. Times of discipline offer us a perfect chance to speak the gospel to our children, including the holy standards of God, our own terrible sinfulness, and God’s love and forgiveness made possible only through the cross. Moments of discipline also give us a wonderful opportunity to help our kids respond to God through prayer, including confessing their sins to God, asking God for forgiveness on the basis of Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf, and thanking God for His unfailing love.
- Let Them Know That They Can Pray Anytime. Make sure that your kids understand that they can pray at any time, with any words, in any way. Their heavenly Father loves them, and wants them to come to Him precisely as little children (Matt. 18:3) – messy, babbling, broken, confused, hurt, lonely, and afraid. Whatever their situation may be, and whatever condition their little hearts may be in, they can reach out to God through prayer, and He will listen.
- Remember To Look For Answers To Prayer, And To Praise God As A Result! Sometimes we pray with our children for a family member to be healed, for help in an exam, or for an opportunity to share about Jesus with a friend, and God answers our prayer! But if we forget to point out to our kids that we just prayed about these very things and to see how God answered, then we miss a wonderful opportunity to show them the power of prayer. Remind your children about the matters you have been praying about, and praise God for how He has answered (even though it may not be exactly what we expected or wanted). Keeping a prayer journal may also help in this regard.
Parenting isn’t easy, and neither is prayer! And yet, if by the help of the Holy Spirit we can be people of prayer ourselves and guide our kids down the same path, then they will be well set up for a lifetime of walking with God and relating intimately with Him. May God grant us much wisdom, patience, and grace to teach our children to pray.