When my oldest was about a year old we had some friends over for a meal. As we bowed to pray, she started going nuts, kicking, screaming, thrashing. I managed to get her calm enough to ask her what was wrong.
"No nite-nite!! NO nite-nite!!!"
I looked at my husband, "I think we might need to start praying more with her...like, more than just at bedtime."
Thus began my odyssey in teaching my children to pray. To really pray.
I wouldn't say I've "arrived" by any stretch. I have a lot to learn myself, and then figure out how to pass on to my children. But, here are a few steps we have found helpful in teaching our children to pray.
1. Fight Repetition. I'm not against memorized prayers, and that is not the focus of this post. But, for myself and my children (my type-A, first-born, just-like-mama daughter especially), our lives are dictated by routine. It is tempting for me to let my prayers become rote, or formulaic, out of laziness or superstition. Be sure to model starting and ending your prayers in different ways, just like you initiate conversations with your human relationships differently. (ex., as a child, I thought no prayer had a hope of being heard unless it ended with "In Jesus' Name, Amen.")
2. Anything is Fair Game. God loves us. Just as the things that are important to, or concern, our children become important to us, so it is with God. So, if my daughter wants to pray about finding her other sock, I let her. I want them to know they can talk to God about anything and everything. You can't build a deep, meaningful relationship by only talking to a person on Christmas, Easter, and in a major crises. And hopefully, your conversations during non-structured prayer times will shepherd their little hearts to begin to echo the things that are important to Him.
3. Give Guidelines. While we are teaching our children that they can come to God with anything, we also want to help them have quality times of conversation with Him. So, taking our cue from the Lord's Prayer, at bedtime we make sure they thank Him for at least one thing, and ask His help with/for at least one thing. They can include other things if they so desire, but we make sure these elements are included.
4. Encourage, Model and Foster Spontaneity. When we find out someone is ill, see/hear an ambulance, or see a really beautiful rainbow, we pray right then (usually eyes open, head not bowed...Gasp). Many's the time our daughter has prayed for a friend who wasn't at school in the car on the way home. Let them see you do this, too.
5. Watch For Answers/Listen. Take time to be still and listen for His voice. Sometimes its a good exercise for littles to just sit quietly and ponder. Then, be sure to recognize when God answers prayer! Talk about it together, thank Him, and celebrate! You can keep a simple prayer journal with the date, request, and date/way in which it was answered. I'm not that organized (understatement of the century!), so we tend to keep it verbal. Be creative and keep it in line with who you are as individuals and a family.
I hope you have found these ideas helpful, and that as you pray for and with your children He guides you all into a deeper friendship with Himself.
What ways have you found helpful in teaching your children to pray?
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