Recently I shared a video of Vivi (5 ½) and Vana (almost 3) praying at bedtime and was flooded with questions of how to teach your kids to pray. I feel like I haven’t shared much about this because it wasn’t something I set out to intentionally teach them but just was a natural part of home life. Y’all know my heart for prayer and many know that I grew up with a mom who would pray with me about everything … because I was skeeeerrrd of everything!
Ironically, even though kids can cut into our quiet times, I have found myself praying more as a mom than I did before and I thought I’d share today how we created a habit of prayer in our home:
1. Start really simple. Before you ask them to pray, ask them what they want YOU to pray for. You are involving them, showing them how to pray without being too intimidating. I started this with Vivi as soon as she could comprehend it. I cannot tell you how many prayers we prayed for her teachers when she was only 1½ and for Sicily (my parents’ dog). We slowly expanded prayers to the Haiti kids, people hurting when we pass an ambulance and homeless people when we give them a granola bar.
2. Don’t push. Can I tell you about Vana’s year of no? I’ve been asking Vana if she’d like to pray ever since she could string a few words together and she has said no a lot. When she does, I don’t push. I just say “OK, I’ll pray.” On occasions, I’ll say “Are you sure?” but without a condescending tone and just offering the opportunity. I will say, this doesn’t work the majority of the time so I don’t use it often. At some point, she started saying yes. She still says no when we pray on the way to school but yes at dinner time and bedtime and that’s OK! They don’t roll their eyes when it’s time to pray and I think that’s one of the most important things right now.
3. Explain stuff without expecting it to be implemented right away. If we pray and the girls are really giggly or interrupting a lot, we’ll mention afterward about it that we want to be respectful to God when we pray. We may put a hand on them to stop during prayer but we don’t stop the prayer to discuss it normally because we don’t want to set up the expectation that they must now understand and do it correctly for the remainder of the prayer. I think of it like talking to your spouse about something either in the middle of a fight or calmly when it’s a current problem they need to fix. In a fight, we feel defensive and a little boxed in, but of a fight, we feel more receptive to the instruction. Also, this way they don’t tie prayer with something they get in trouble for all the time.
4. Keep pointing back to God. The other day we prayed for a big meeting Tyler had. He called us as soon as it was over and I was putting the girls to sleep and I told Vivi about the news. I made sure to include that that was God at work. I think it’s easy to talk about things without pointing out God’s role in it all but I want my girls to see God in everything. Even the things that look like no’s. I want to be able to articulate (as best I can) that God is working even when things don’t go our way. Back to Tyler’s meeting. After I mentioned to Vivi “Vivi, we prayed for Papa’s meeting! We should thank God for that.” she immediately folded her hands and said “Thank you God for papa’s meeting!”
5. Read materials on prayer to your kids. There are books on prayer that can help you communicate prayer in a way kids can understand. Also this has become a recent dream to do one day, write a book on prayer for kids!
6. Grab our Kid’s Prayer Journal. I’ll preface this by saying I think this only makes sense if you are using one too. Kids get excited when they get something like their parents. They like seeing us model a behavior first!
I asked on Insta specific questions y’all had. And I ended up answering a bunch and waking up to dozens more. Before I answer some, I wanted to share that having questions about prayer is good!! The fact that we are asking these things shows we care. I can’t answer them all and honestly, I don’t want to because I want to encourage us to hear the Lord speak into how we teach our kids how to pray.
With that said, here are some questions answered! If you have others, I want you to stop and write it down in your prayer journal (or any notebook) and ask the Lord to speak clearly to you on how to communicate prayer to your kids. We won’t have all the answers but I have felt the Lord speak through me so many times when I just didn’t know how to articulate something. Sometimes, I still just say “I don’t know, honey,” or want to change the subject to something easier but ask the Lord for wisdom!
How do you teach them it’s about a conversation with God and not just sharing a list of requests?
I think this is a lesson that takes time for our kids to learn because it’s hard to comprehend when they are really young. I think the biggest thing is including God in more aspects of our day then just asking Him for things. A few examples:
-- Pointing out crazy cloud patterns and how God created the sky
-- Talking to them about worship and how it’s a time we thank Him and praise Him
-- Reminding them God made them.
-- Telling them I’m glad God made me to be their momma.
-- Talking to them about God’s authority and how discipline is momma’s obedience to God.
-- Talking about how God is fun and joyful and not just someone to revere (like we emphasize in prayer)
-- And another big one? By letting them hear our own prayers that aren’t just requests that include praise, confession, surrender, thanksgiving and even asking God questions.
How to do you explain how we talk to someone who we can’t see?
My answer to a lot of big questions is sharing with them how big God is and how we won’t understand everything. That sounds like a cop out but I want them to know that there are mysteries and it’s BECAUSE God is HOLY and not of this world that we can’t always “make sense of God.” But I also keep it really simple and tell them that God loves us and hears us even though we can’t see Him.
How to respond if they feel like they will mess up and freeze up to pray?
My first born is a perfectionist and scared of messing up. Case in point, she had a school program the other day and kept saying “Momma what if I mess up?” I told her “Honey, you could puke all over that stage and I’m gonna be proud of you.” Gross and kinda weird to say but she needed to know there was nothing she could do that would make us see her differently.
I think our job as parents, when it comes to prayer is to convey that God loves us even greater than that. It starts with explaining salvation and how Jesus died on the cross for our sins. We can’t do anything to earn His love and we sure can’t do anything to take it away either.
You could also emphasize how you “mess up” or don’t have the right words and even let them hear your messy prayers where your words get twisted and they don’t sound perfect or you get distracted.
How do you respond to the silly prayers?
I usually let them slide unless they get irreverent. Vana prays for some pretty random things but this is true of everyday conversation with people too so I know it’s just her age. When her prayers really start to trail off, we usually “encourage her to wrap it up” by saying “Amen!” if we hear her pause. If it’s irreverent we’ll do what I mentioned in point #3.
Ways to address their weaknesses in prayer without it seeming like they are being criticized?
I’m not sure if this question was specifically about us praying for our kid’s weaknesses in front of them or teaching them to pray for their own. Here’s advice for both.
Praying WITH kids – I normally wrap it up in a compliment sandwich. I thank God for Vivi’s sweet spirit and kind heart. I highlight the things she’s great at and then I ask God to keep “shaping her heart” or give her a heart for obedience or ask Him to “fill her with your confidence…
Teaching them to pray for their weakness – I think the biggest thing happens outside of prayer and just helping them know they are flawed humans and we ALL mess up and make mistakes and that God’s grace, when we invite Him into our heart, covers it all. And when we accept Him into our heart, God refines us. To do that, we ask God to show us where He wants to grow us.
I think with both, just emphasizing that perfection isn’t the standard or a mark they are missing but our transformation is actually a gift, therefore, inviting God to work in our weaknesses is a beautiful thing and doesn’t have to carry the condemnation that we’d have apart from Jesus.
What questions can I ask them to think about gratitude and who to pray for?
I think simply asking “What is one thing you are grateful for today?” is enough to get things started. I think saying “one thing” is helpful to not making it feel overwhelming to answer.
I’ll also suggest people to pray for if there’s a pattern of just praying for momma, papa, and sister without saying “Hey, let’s pray for others,” by saying, “Is there anyone else you want to pray for?”
How do you explain “pray without ceasing”?
I think it starts with emphasizing what I mentioned in point #2 so they understand that God is always around and hears us all the time. Then I think emphasizing God’s character, that He is not only powerful but cares immensely for us and that no need is too small to bring to Him helps it make sense to keep going to God throughout the day.
Definitely make this a habit in your own life. When they get hurt, pray. When you get frustrated, pray. When there’s a pretty sky, thank God and pray.
Can they pray if they haven’t believed?
Such a good question and one I’m a bit intimidated to answer!
Our prayers teach our kids about God and give them opportunities to know more about Him and hopefully put their faith in God one day. I can’t imagine being able to teach my girls about God without prayer being a part of that and then when they did accept Jesus, trying to teach it. They learn so much seeing us walk out our faith. I think them learning the language of prayer can happen before they believe and can be an avenue to believing. I have talked to Vivi about the importance of inviting God into our hearts and how that makes way for a real relationship with him through prayer. Until she does that with a true understanding, we will keep on learning the habit of prayer and I’ll continue praying she accepts Jesus into her heart!