If you want your kids to do more than just “say” prayers, try this simple tip to make prayer meaningful for young kids (and all of us, for that matter).I remember learning to pray as a little girl. We said prayers as a family at meal time, and my parents would help me say my bedtime prayers. I don’t know that I thought a lot about the meaning of prayers as a child…it’s just something we always did.
As I have grown older, prayer has come to mean much more than listing a few things I’m thankful for and asking to be kept safe. It’s so much more than talking to an empty room. It is a lifeline. I want so much for my children to understand that.
“Be sure to say your prayers,” we often tell our children. But is that really all we want? For them to say prayers?
It’s a good start for sure, but I hope my children do more than repeat a few well-known phrases. I want them to understand the power that prayer can have in their lives. I want them to understand that there is someone truly listening. I want them to know that they have a Father in heaven who loves them infinitely–that He’s on their side, and he will guide them.
How do we teach meaningful prayer to our children?
For wiggly, giggly, crazy little kids, being reverent can be hard. Understanding abstract concepts like the existence of an omniscient God is tricky for a toddler. So, how do we make prayer meaningful to young kids?
Answer: Line upon line.
Remember, they are little. Their understanding of God is likely very basic at this point. However, we can do small and simple things to cultivate their mustard seed of faith.
Here’s one thing that has made prayer more meaningful for our children:
It all started almost two years ago, when my husband and I had started splitting up bedtime duties for our two boys (before baby #3 came along). Each of us would put one of the boys to bed, and we’d switch off every night. One night, after I crept out of our second child’s room, I overhead my husband talking to our oldest son in his room.
As they were settling in for the night, my husband did something SO simple that it was brilliant.
Before they knelt to pray together by my son’s bed, my husband asked Little Man, “What are you grateful for today?”
They talked for a minute about the good things of the day…that we’d gone to the park and the library, that Daddy had come home and done “wrestle time” with him, and so on.
My husband said something he was grateful for, too, and then he connected the dots: “Alright, let’s thank Heavenly Father for our blessings.”
As I stood there in the hallway listening, I smiled as I heard my son praying about the things they had just talked about. I was amazed. Through such a simple conversation, my husband had moved prayer from rote recitation to a genuine expression of gratitude.
Now, every night before prayer, we ask that one simple question: “What are you grateful for today?”
And every day, our boys come up with new and different answers. Some days they’re grateful for really sweet things…like their new baby brother. Some days they are thankful for ridiculous things…like Chick Hicks (yes, we’re Cars fans around here). But no matter what they say, at least I know they are thinking about the things that matter to them.
As we’ve continued this habit over the past couple of years, I’ve noticed that taking a moment to reflect on our blessings before we pray helps my boys to focus more.
Why we do this:
- cultivates a spirit of gratitude
- Helps our kids recognize where their blessing come from
- Allows us a few minutes of quality time with our kids to talk about the day
The great thing is that it works with even young toddlers. Even if they are too young to say a whole prayer, they can say something they are grateful for, and an older sibling or parent can include it in the family prayer. This way, they learn that their thoughts and contributions are valued and they can be a part of the prayer in a simple way.
A few more ways to make prayer meaningful for young kids:
As your toddler grows in his understanding of prayer, here are a few more questions we have begun to ask our kids to prompt them to make prayer more meaningful.
- What do you need help with? Is there anything you’re worried about? (“Please bless me to make friends at school…”)
- Who can you think of who could benefit from our prayers? (“Please bless grandma to get better…”)
- What mistakes have you made that you want to apologize for? (“I’m sorry I hit my brother tonight…please help me to be kind…”
Over time, talking about these things helps our kids see their Heavenly Father as a loving parent and friend.
Most of all, make sure that you model prayer for your children. Let them see you pray. Let them hear your gratitude, your faith, your hopes, and even your worries (at an age-appropriate level). The more they see the way you value your relationship with God, the more they will believe that it’s possible for them, too.
How have you made prayer meaningful in your family?