Children can know and experience God in prayer. We are all on a faith journey together and prayer is an essential part of any faith journey. Children need to pray, just like all of us, but they need to be taught. Children learn in all sorts of ways—by example, by experience, and by education (i.e. being taught). They are primarily influenced by what their parents, caregivers, and teachers and they imitate them. If those who have the greatest influence over the children pray regularly, children will follow.
One cannot start too early including prayer in the daily life of a child. Saying thanksgiving prayers before at least one meal each day as a family provides an ideal model for children. A short prayer time before going to sleep also provides an excellent model for children. This article outlines some suggested steps for parents, or other caregivers, in providing a prayer time with children. In this approach to praying with children, the children are gathered together at a regular time and place for a period of about 15 minutes. The important thing is that, over time, the children begin to see that everything in their lives involves God.
Pick a special place that is pleasing to both the children and the adult. For example, can the family fit on a couch? Do you have a porch? Once you have a special spot, put a special object there to indicate this is your place to pray—a Bible, a candle, a cross, a plant, or something the children are especially fond of.
Select a time that fits with the family schedule. After a meal is a good time. Often the weekend works well, because families are less rushed.
To start, gather the children together, and remind them that you are together as a family to enjoy God being with you and your being with God. Welcome God’s presence with you. After you do this several times, don’t be surprised if the children don’t pick it up and you hear them saying something like, “Hello God. We’re glad you’re here with us. We like being here with you.”
If you like to sing, sing during your prayer. Be sure to sing a song that all present know or that you can learn from each other.
Talk about what is going on in your lives. Invite the children to do so, too. Nothing that happens to you, or the children, is foreign to a relationship with God. Thus, talk is appropriate for your prayer.
It is desirable to have scripture as part of the prayer. The Bible has many passages, especially stories that can be used. A useful thing is to read the passage or story from the Bible, using the words printed in the Bible. Then, re-say the passage in words at their own level of vocabulary and understanding. One doesn’t need to water down scripture—children love it. Then one can talk about the passage: What does it mean to each of you and what does it tell us about God?
God talks to us in several ways: through others; through nature; through our hearts and minds; or through circumstance. Listen to what God wants to tell you. During the time together, try praying silently. This usually works best towards the end of the prayer time. You might want to say something like this: “Lets us go into our heart and welcome God there. (Pause.) Now, let’s tell God, in our heart, what we’ve been talking about. (Pause.) Let God know how things are going. (Pause.) Now ask God or tell God whatever you want. (Pause.)
After the quiet time, you might want a few moments transition time before speaking again. Then you might invite the children to share something from their quiet prayer time, or you might want to share something of your own. However, don’t force this, as silent prayer is personal, intimate and sacred—all of which makes for difficult sharing.
End the prayer together in a definite way. It could be spontaneous prayer (young children often become very good at it). The Lord’s Prayer, said together, is a fine way to end. You may wish to end with a song or hymn. If a candle is used, then blowing out the candle is a good way to signal completion. The length of the prayer time together might only be 15 minutes. There’s no point in dragging the time out.