“Jesus said, ‘Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.’” Mt 19:14
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Praying with small children can be very rewarding but can also be frustrating. Rewarding in the simplicity of the prayer of child and seeing the wonderment of the world through their prayer intentions. Frustrating in that in that you are dealing with a thirty pound ball of energy with an attention span of twenty seconds or less.
We all know that praying is important, as is getting into prayer routines. A child’s prayer and the simplicity and innocence of it can be a powerful thing and should be encouraged. But how can we do that especially in the chaos of children. The following are some tips for getting into a pray routine with your small child/children.
Make time for it
First we need to make time for prayer. In my house we have a routine that we pray before dinner, before bed and after we receive communion at church with our recently turned 3 year old. Our son knows this because we have always set aside time for it for as long as he can remember. We say we are going to pray and he needs to fold his hands. We have had the occasional buck where he is not focused so we wait for him to be ready and he knows that he won’t eat until we finish praying. Bed time is the other time where we are winding down our day and getting ready to go to sleep. This is a good time to reflect on the day (age dependent) and say prayers.
Consistency is important, children need routine. Prayer cannot be something that we do with children when we think of it. The child needs to know its coming. If there is a hungry child with food in front of them and the parents decide after not having said grace in two weeks that now is a good time to start again, they are just asking for a meltdown at the table that could be disastrous and messy. But when it is just something we always do it is usually handled better or at least won’t come as an unexpected surprise..
Having a plan and keep it interesting
Knowing when you are going to pray and what you are going to pray needs to be decided(at least in our head) before we sit down. Age appropriate is necessary if we expect interaction from the child. It may be just a “Thank you Jesus” at a young age and adding more prayers as the child gets older. Keeping it interesting by introducing new prayers and taking some out while keeping the routine the same can help avoid distraction and boredom.
When we saw that the Lord’s Prayer was getting sped through with little eyes scanning the room for distractions we knew it was time to take it out of the line up temporary since we knew it and it was losing some meaning. It was replaced by introducing the “new” prayer of the Memorare. He listened intently to the new prayer and followed along and after a few night he was reciting it along with the other prayers.
Types of Prayer
While formal memorized prayer is important, working with age appropriate methods and situations can expand the child's horizons. This works in two ways first if the child is very young they can’t memorize a long prayer. For a very young child who may just be learning to speak the prayer we mentioned before of “Thanks you Jesus” before bed may be enough to start developing the habit of prayer time without the child having the ability to vocalise the prayer. Praying for the child, where you hold the child and say the prayer may be good for the early speakers so they hear the words even if they might not have the communication skills to join in yet.
The other reason is engaging the child in petition prayer so that he/she can can get a sense of God’s desire to help others and that He cares for everyone. Asking the child who they want to pray for and guiding them along “Grandma has a cold, lets include her in our prayers tonight too”, shows that God not only cares for them but that he cares for Grandma too.
Another suggestion is what i call trigger prayer, I prayer when a certain situation occurs. Our trigger is when we see an ambulance with its lights on we say a prayer for the people inside.
Starting young and showing that everything is not memorized recited prayer and that prayer can be conversational will help to lay the foundations for a deeper richer prayer life down the road.
A proper prayer posture is important for adults but what do you do with a child. My advice try your best and follow suggestion #2 from above about consistance. This could be hit and miss depending on the childs age and disposition. Other factors just as special needs (ADD for example) may dictate or limit some options. The point of a prayer posture is to connect us closer to God not to have melt down because someone wants to sit on their hands instead of folding them. But as with all things toddler don’t just fold to the child’s whim, explain the importance of prayer and why we do things that we do. Our house we fold our hands to pray. This shows that we are entering prayer time.
We also have the practice of folding hands when walking up to communion, though not old enough to receive it promotes the importance to going up to the lords table. A secondary effect of the communion line is that it can be an outward sign to the world. I have been approached a couple of time after mass and told, “ When I saw him with his hands folded going up the line, it made my day and gave me hope.”
These are just some suggestion that i hope will help you help your children start early on developing a prayer life. We are not just praying we are developing a relationship with God. As will all relationships it needs to be developed and nurtured from a young age so that it will maintain us until an old age.
The following an examples of the prayers said by our family (just an example do what fits your child and family best as long as it is consistent and time set apart from everything else.)
All our prayers start with folding of our hands then Sign of the cross (we are still working on which shoulder is which on holy spirit) and end with the sign of the cross again.
Dinner - Grace - Bless us, O Lord, and these, Thy gifts, which we are about to receive from Thy bounty. Through Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Bedtime - Intentions(if any) The Lord’s Prayer - The Memorare - Hail Mary - Guardian Angel Prayer - “Thank you Jesus”(Rotating the prayers and order occasionally if needed)
Our “trigger” prayer: when ever we see an ambulance going with his lights on we tell our son. Say a prayer for them and without fail he says “Jesus protect them”.
After communion - Currently consists of spoken prayer by me asking of God’s intercession on him to help him follow Gods will and to bless him. Then asking him who he wants to pray for, which is a litany of relatives, classmates (all of them) and occasionally Elmo or “My Trucks”.
"Create in them a pure heart, O God, and let that purity of heart be shown in their actions." (Ps. 51:10)
What prayer routine do you have with your children and how does it work?