I was very happy, this week, to speak to a group of sixth grade parents in our parish about how to pray with their children. They were a nice group (actually two groups) and my talk was brief enough not to annoy anyone. I think busy parents who attend a meeting at 7:30 at night do not relish a long talk, I know I don’t so I kept it brief.
I thought I’d give the highlights of how Dave and I have tried to encourage our children in developing their own prayer lives. It’s one of the most important things we do, as parents, giving our children opportunities to develop a close relationship with Our Lord, because without such a relationship how can we expect to all meet in heaven?
Prayer is communication, and communication is essential to any relationship. You can’t have a good marriage without speaking to your spouse, you can’t have a best friend unless you talk to each other and you can’t fall in love without getting to know one another through communication. Think of those long talks you used to have when you were dating; you spoke about everything, hopes, dreams, fears, ambitions, your past and your future. This is how we fall in love and the same holds true for our relationship with God. We fall in love with Him and get to know Him by speaking to Him and listening for His voice.
So how do we encourage this relationship for our children. Well you can’t start young enough. A two-year old can be taught to pray, “I love you Jesus” or “Blessed Mother pray for me”. It’s simple and sweet and begins to develop the habit of prayer.
We all know that children learn what they see, so when they see mama pray her rosary or hear the blessing at every meal there need not be a big deal about “teaching” them to pray. They will just pray because that is what “we do here”.
Family rosary time, praying at meals, the Angelus at noon, the Chaplet at three, all devotions that become second nature to small children and not really difficult for homeschool moms to do as part of her daily lessons in religion.
Praying with small children is so rewarding and sweet and certainly your efforts will be blessed tenfold. When you pray with your little ones you are handing down the faith, an awesome and beautiful thing to be sure. Little ones often have a natural piety and to capture their interest in their faith is easy and enjoyable. Short sweet prayers, saint stories, lovely crafts, Mass attendance and participating in liturgical devotions and Catholic traditions. Their enthusiasm will spill over to the entire family, I promise.
As the children become older encouraging them to develop a more personal relationship with God is the goal. Once they can understand that God is listening to them and that their prayers are really a way of speaking to God and the Church Triumphant then they can begin to speak their hearts.
I begin with the acronym ACTS.
Adoration: Tell God you love Him. Always begin there. Ask the child to spend a little time just contemplating God’s great love and mercy and to kind of dive into that ocean of love.
Contrition: Tell God what you did that day that maybe you shouldn’t have. Any thoughts or words that are contrary to the right thing, the holy thing. We all have those moments everyday and an examination of conscience is an essential daily habit.
Thanksgiving: Thank God for all that you have. Children, if you can believe it, are not all that inclined to gratitude unless it is pointed out that they should be grateful. All that they have is a blessing from God and they should express gratitude for all those blessings.
Supplication: To present, in a humble and sincere way, our needs to God. To ask Him for help yet being open to His will.
After these steps encourage them to be silent for a few minutes, to be aware that God will lay on their hearts what they need to know, and there will be peace. The peace that comes with prayer will, in a very short time, permeate the whole house.
I would love to hear how you handle praying with children.