5 Ways to Teach Children to Pray
“Let the Children come to me…” Jesus’ words seem so simple yet reveal deeper meaning, especially upon closer contact with children. Childhood is a miraculous stage of life. So much is learned, desired, explored and so quickly. My husband and I have three boys, and a fourth on the way, ages four and under. We are living and experiencing the early years of childhood rapidly and continuously. We’ve talked a lot about how to teach our children how to pray, even prior to marriage. Being married and having children has allowed us to struggle through and find ways to adjust our personal and family prayer life to the many seasons childhood brings. Although we are focused on little children, I believe these tips can help children of all ages. With some tailoring, these suggestions can be adapted to the age, personality, and challenges of each child.
#1 Pray in front of them- be their example
After struggling to balance the demands of parenthood with the desire for an organized spiritual and prayer life, my husband and I resolved to pray together as a family even with a small baby who couldn’t yet speak. We consistently prayed before each meal together as a family and slowly introduced saying our night prayers with our one year old son. When driving, we began praying for the trip out loud in the car so he could hear and the same with the Rosary. Making this subtle change throughout the past five years has given us many surprises.
Around age two, our children have surprised us by reciting along with us the basic prayers they have consistently heard and seen us pray. These include: the Sign of the Cross, Hail Mary, Our Father, Glory Be, St. Michael prayer, Angelus, and the Rosary. This early on, many of the words are incorrect because they do not know what they are saying but even by 2 ½, they’ve consistently learned the correct words to each of these prayers. They do not have a comprehensive understanding about the meaning of the prayers but they know it and can pray along with us.
Leading by example is the foundation to teaching children how to pray.
#2 Introduce set times to pray: routine is key
During the first year of marriage, my husband and I adapted our personal life of prayer to a family life of prayer. We still had times to pray on our own throughout the day but these times of personal and communal prayer slowly disappeared as our first child was born. We found ourselves exhausted by the end of the night trying to pray Rosary and Night prayers after the baby went to bed. So we created a routine. We did not add all of these at once into our schedule with our children but have added them slowly as they have become acquainted with daily prayer times. Here is an example of when and what we pray with our children daily:
- When they wake up: Our children are very little. When we walk into their rooms and turn the lights on, we tell them good morning. Then we look at the Crucifix hanging on their wall and say, “Good morning Jesus. Thank you for today.”
- Before each meal: We pray the Bless us O Lord prayer.
- The Angelus (noon, 6pm): I stay at home with our children and have recently introduced praying the Angelus with them. Sometimes we pray it all together in English, other times I pray it in Latin, and other times we listen to it chanted.
- Night prayers (once they’re in their PJ’s, we pray before story time): We try to incorporate the four pillars of prayer in a very simplified way. We started off having them repeat after us: Adoration (I love you Jesus), Thanksgiving (Thank you Jesus), Petition (I am sorry Jesus), Intercession (Help me to….; Please pray for ..). Over time, our children have asked to lead this or they insert more into these pillars based on the day. We often end with a Hail Mary or the Saint Michael prayer.
- For the trip when we are in the car: We pray an Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be, as well as invoke a few patrons.
- Each time we hear a siren: We pray a Hail Mary for the first responders and the people they will attend to.
When a schedule is introduced or an addition to a routine they are used to, many children get upset, question, and refuse to participate. We have learned that all push back will eventually end once the habit is formed and they realize that this change is here to stay. This includes prayer. Our children rarely ever pushback during these set times to pray. Sometimes they do not join in verbally, but they remain with the family and learn to be quiet during this time of prayer.
#3 Answer their questions as they arise
Each of our boys has asked what seems like hundreds of questions about prayer and about the Faith during these or following these times of prayer. It feels like a Catechesis lesson when their questions start because one question always leads to another. Make sure you can take the time to answer their questions. Their brains are trying to understand why and how to pray.
#4 Don’t rush through
When we begin any journey in the car, our two year old consistently wants to pray with us. We match his speed, which is much slower than ours, to ensure he can say each of the words. He gets a lot of joy praying with us during car rides.
#5 Song, Hymns, Chants!
Introduce different ways to pray. During the lunch time Angelus, I always ask my boys, should we pray in English or Latin. Latin means mommy chants. My oldest despised the Latin chant at first, now he prefers it unless he wants to lead, then he will pray it in English. We also pray a lot using hymns. Occasionally, I will pull out my guitar and sing a few fun songs with them but we will end with a song form of the Magnificat to pray together. I’ve noticed my second child learns a lot through music. He retains the lyrics to a song very quickly and is laser focused during the entire song. It has also caught their attention during Mass, especially if a hymn is sung that they have heard before.
"Let the children come to me…" We are made to have an intimate relationship with God and children are especially included in this. Enabling children to come to Jesus is a primary mission entrusted to parents. Teaching them from an early age that prayer is a necessary and basic part of everyday life is a foundation stone to developing their life of Faith. The most important thing is to establish as a family set times to pray together. This must be done at any stage of childhood but the earlier it is started, the easier it will likely be. Your example to your children or any children you are around will have a huge impact on them. Start slowly and do not give up if difficulty arises. And above all, pray for these children each and every day.