How to Teach Your Child to Pray
For parents, teaching a child to pray can seem like an intimidating task. After all, prayer is our method of communicating with God. Surely it must be difficult to teach such an important activity. The truth, though, is that teaching a child to pray can be a simple and enjoyable process.
Parents can begin teaching their children to pray by modeling it for them. Even infants can observe as their parents pray over them, pray before meals, pray about important decisions, and so on. By modeling what it means to pray, you can instill a rudimentary understanding of prayer.
As infants grow into toddlers and learn how to speak, many parents teach their children to recite formulaic or prescribed prayers. Typically, these are prayers that can be found in a book or that are handed down from generation to generation. Parents can teach these prayers one phrase at a time by having children repeat it. Turning the prayer into a song can make it even more memorable. Eventually, a child can become familiar enough with the prayer to recite it in its entirety all by himself or herself.
An example of a common formulaic prayer that is said by children before meals is, "God is great, God is good. Let us thank Him for our food." Another prayer, usually used at bedtime, is expressed this way: "Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. Your love keep me through the night and wake me with the morning light." While these kinds of prayers may seem ritualistic and simplistic, they can be helpful in teaching children the value of prayer and developing a habit of prayer.
When children approach and enter their school-age years, they should be encouraged to begin using their own words while praying. Instead of relying on memorized verses, they can express their own thoughts, feelings, desires, questions, and worship to God. There is no need for them to don a façade of perfection in order to pray, nor must they learn antiquated English terms such as "Thee" and "Thou."
Many families that value their faith choose devote a few minutes everyday to reading Scripture and praying together. This can be an influential time as children can have the opportunity to witness their parents (and siblings, if applicable) praying authentic prayers from the heart. Plus, they can learn to formulate their own prayers as each family member takes a turn.
Of course, the family's church can also assist. Many children and youth programs emphasize the significance of prayer and teach techniques to develop a vibrant prayer life. In most cases, churches promote both personal and corporate prayer.
As you teach your child to pray, remember that there is no right or wrong way to do it. Instead of correcting your child if he or she phrases something incorrectly, give applause for making the effort to pray in the first place. The words themselves are not important; what matter are honesty, vulnerability, and reverence.
With that in mind, avoid treating prayer as a magic incantation, access code, or password that must be said or entered in a specific order for it to be successful. Each person is unique and can communicate with God as an individual.
Like with anything else, your child will become more comfortable at praying with time and practice. By beginning early and setting an example to follow, you can prepare your child to enjoy a lifelong habit of prayer.