As believers and parents, there’s nothing we want more than to see our kids fall in love with their Saviour. But, at the same time, many of us feel inadequate for our role in the process.
We’re inexperienced spiritual chaperones. What if we somehow get it wrong? Even the simple task of teaching children to pray can leave us wondering if we are “doing it right.”
Part of the issue, I think, is that prayer itself is a mystery – it is at once both simple and incomprehensible. Having taught our toddler to pray simply, “Thank you, Jesus, for my family,” just before nodding off to sleep, we crouch alongside his bed watching him and wonder, Is that it? Is that enough? At the same time though, we hesitate to impose lengthy prayer times on school-age children, for fear they will disengage.
Perhaps it will help to remember that prayer is primarily about relationship. The elementary years are not the time to worry about whether your son or daughter is following prayer guides like the ACTS acronym and covering adoration, confession, thanksgiving and supplication in equal measure!
Don’t fret about “getting prayer right.” Just set yourself the simple goal of always trying to let your love and excitement for Christ shine through whenever you pray with your child. And yes, prayer should always be reverent and respectful, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun too! Friendships are built by having fun together in all kinds of different settings. Why should building your child’s friendship with Jesus, through prayer, be any different?
If your prayer times with your kids could use a shakeup, here are some ideas to help you introduce a little more variety. And if you have some ideas of your own that have been a hit with your kids, please consider sharing them with other parents via our Facebook page.
Thanks for the Son’s light – Wake the kids before sunrise and pile them into the car, bundled under cozy blankets. Drive to a convenient or scenic vantage point and wait for the sun to rise over the horizon. As you contemplate the cold, dark scene, ask your kids to think about what life would be like if Jesus hadn’t come – a life with no hope and no assurance of God’s love. Pray and thank Jesus for all the different blessings you thought of. You may wish to supplement your children’s ideas by reading aloud some of the reasons Jesus gave for coming to earth. Some relevant verses are John 6:38-40; John 10:10; John 16:7,13; John 14:2-3; John 14:12-14; John 12:44-46.
Musical musings – Praying praise songs to the Lord helps active youngsters still their minds and bodies and focus on Jesus. Some hits that work well as prayers sung softly to the Lord include Above All, You Are My King (Amazing Love), God of Wonders and Shout to the Lord. You’ll likely have your own favourites too. If you have some gentle musical instruments, such as shakers or a triangle, you may want to let your child play along. Older children may also enjoy praying through a psalm together, or singing it as a musical chant. Add some haunting musical tones by allowing careful children to run a moistened finger around the rim of a crystal glass, or simply flick the glass gently with your fingernail. Varying the water level in each glass will produce different tones.
Prayers by flashlight – In the evening, make prayers before bed special by huddling together under a “prayer tent.” Sit side-by-side on your child’s bed and throw a spare sheet over top of you both to create your prayer tent, then pray together by flashlight. For some good Scripture verses to pray through in your prayer tent, check out Psalm 139.
Sharing the moment – “Share the moment” prayers help kids remember that Jesus is with them every minute of the day. Just before you experience something special and wonderful, take a moment to invite Jesus to share the experience with you. For example, at the top of the water slide, you might pray, Be with us, Lord, and share this fun slide right along with us. We’re so grateful that You created this for us to enjoy!
Sharing interests – Reassure your child that Jesus wants to hear about anything that’s on their mind. Simply invite them to pray by saying, God loves to hear about the things that you love. Would you like to talk to Him about trucks today? To get their ideas flowing, you might first wish to read a book about your child’s favourite subject, then tell Jesus some of the things you learned.
Hand stack – To help little ones stay focused during family prayer, have one person place their hand in the middle of the table, then have everyone else in the family place one hand on top to create a “stack” of hands. The person whose hand is at the base of the stack goes first, praying a single sentence prayer as they pull out their hand out and place it on top of the “hand stack.” Then, the next person, whose hand is now on the bottom, prays as they pull their hand out and place it on top of the stack. When you sense it is time to stop, the adult (whose hand is on the bottom) raises up the pile of hands. That’s the signal for everyone to say “Amen!” and high five the person next to them.
Centre of attention – Choose a specific day of the week to pray for one person in the family, then pray together at the dinner table after your evening meal. For example, on Mondays you might pray for specific blessings for Dad; on Tuesdays, for your eldest child; on Wednesdays, for the next eldest, etc. Your child is sure to listen intently to hear what you pray for them! In the process, they’ll learn how to pray for others. Building this habit can be helpful in the teen years when your child may be reluctant to make their prayer needs known.
Egg timer prayers – This is a prayer with a challenge! Set an egg timer for a minute or two, then pray for one particular person. See how many different blessings you can pray over that person before the egg timer beeps.
Newspaper prayer – More suitable for older children, the newspaper prayer will help your family remember to pray for people in other regions of the world. Give each member of the household a section of the newspaper and 10 to 15 minutes to go through it, identifying any items that could become matters of prayer. Then gather together as a family and pray for the things each person has selected that need prayer. (This idea comes from the book Faith Begins at Home Prayer by Mark Holmen.)
Facebook favourites – This is similar to the newspaper prayer. Have each of your older children check recent Facebook posts from friends and contacts in full-time missions work. Pray together over the prayer requests you discover.
Prayer deck – Prepare a small stack of cards with each card displaying the photo of someone you pray for regularly. Each night after supper, shuffle the cards and deal one or more cards to each member of your family. Take turns praying for the people featured on the cards you receive.
Silent prayer – To introduce the concept of a “silent prayer,” deliberately interrupt your child several times during a conversation. Then explain that sometimes we can talk too much during prayer and interrupt Jesus when He is trying to tell us something. Add a time of waiting and listening at the end of a prayer of praise, or after praying through Scripture.
Handy prayer guide – If your child is ready for a longer prayer time, these simple hand signals will help them remember several different aspects of prayer: For praise, point heavenwards with your index finger. Next, hold up both the index and middle finger to make a peace sign. Confess sin and ask the Holy Spirit to help you walk in peace with others. Thirdly, make the “okay” sign by touching your index finger to your thumb to form an “o.” The “o” is a reminder to pray for others, that they will be “okay.” Lastly, make the thumbs-up sign and point your thumb back to your chest. Now it’s time to pray for yourself.
Catherine Wilson is an associate editor for Focus on the Family Canada.