Last week, I heard from my sister in Thailand some of the heartbreaking moments they’ve been struggling through in their community of refugees. An 11-year-old girl sent to possibly “work” in Bangkok with her mother. A stabbing. A man depriving his family of enough money to buy food. And I thought, My kids and I should pray.
Then I thought of our prayers the last several weeks: Mostly stuff about…us.
Of course it’s good to teach our children to seek God for all their needs. But at that moment I thought, I want to up the ante on teaching my kids to cry out to God for other people.
Spiritual disciplines are hard to practically teach kids. (I’ve been thinking about this a lot in a blog series I recently began on teaching kids spiritual disciplines.) I, particularly, am Madame Non in my house—I’m driving/correcting the schooling, the chores, the attitudes, the dirty underwear cast 14 inches from the hamper.
I also don’t need more stuff to do. The good news: The goal isn’t to do all of the ideas below; or even to “do.” It’s about setting ourselves up to receive God’s grace–like a football player positioning himself for the catch. Pick one of these, and knead it into life (I think of it like adding flour to dough, a little at a time).
Because I’m wary of creating obedient lil’ Pharisees…the heart is more important even than the discipline itself. In teaching prayer to my kids, I’m super-sensitive to how they’re responding so I—and eventually God—can have their hearts…and not just associate spirituality with boredom, exasperation, and straight-laced have-to’s. I listen to the Holy Spirit a lot to know whether I should push through in what we’re doing, or leave it to a better time.
It’s similar to my philosophy in education: If kids can “catch the bug” for a subject when they’re young—having fun and being engaged—they’ll be self-driven to learn and experience that topic for the rest of their lives.
We don’t just create engaging interactions with prayer for our kids so we can compete with Nickelodeon. We want them to pursue God out of the pleasure they’ve already experienced and enjoyed with Him.
THE KEY: Communicate that talking with God is:
- not a periodic act, but a constant conversation
- natural (not stilted)
- effective (don’t forget to keep track of answers!)
Help your kids, too, see how prayer changes us (say, when we’re trying to forgive someone, or giving us ideas how to serve). Prayer is one ultimate form of love!
1. Taking a cue from Ann Voskamp, allow each of your children to pick out a “gratitude journal,” and take a few minutes at dinner or bedtime to add, say, five items to each of your lists. If your kids like this, move on to prayer journals that they keep in any way that works for them.
2. On the back of an interior door, post a piece of tagboard and keep a pen attached with adhesive Velcro. Make it a family goal to fill the posterboard with the objects of your gratitude. Alternatively, Voskamp suggests covering a window with sticky notes of gratitude in this timeless, yes-yes-yes post, 15 Happy Ways to Teach Kids to be Grateful.
3. Practice “popcorn prayer”–allowing kids to pray sentence prayers in your prayer time together.
4. Use a guide like Operation World’s their world prayer map to keep track of the countries for which you’ve all prayed.
5. Take a prayer walk around your neighborhood, using the just-released Pray A-Z: A Practical Guide to Pray for Your Community or these printable cards from Amelia Rhodes.
6. Cultivate habits to pray with and for your child:
- After an intimate conversation—say, about something going on at school (don’t forget to pray for the people who cause anger or hurt).
- After a nightmare, or after dreaming about someone.
- When you see headlines on the news.
- When you hear sirens or see emergency vehicles.
- After a disciplinary moment, along with lots of cuddling. (Ahem: no preaching in the prayer!)
- When they’re afraid or worried—or you are.
- Praising God when your kids have shown character.
- In the car, for safety and the occasion you’re traveling to.
- Thank God on the way home from getting groceries.
- When you hear bad news—or good news.
- On the way to/from the doctor or pharmacy or dentist, for health and for your healthcare professionals.
- When you need prayer for something you’re struggling with (anger, lack of self-control, irritability), or forgiveness for something you’ve done wrong.
- For the day ahead of you on the way to school/work/preschool — as well as love for those you’ll meet (teachers, too!), chances to share Christ, etc.
- When you’re facing a decision.
- On the way to church (don’t forget teachers, pastors, and workers).
- When you hear of someone doing something wrong.
- Before and after one of their games or sports events.
- When your child is honored in school, or has been successful somewhere.
7. Try the five-finger prayer method. Each finger can remind even little kids about how Jesus taught us to pray:
8. One of our favorites lately: Make your own deck of prayer prompts to pass out at dinner, after breakfast, or at bedtime; think of it as “prayer roulette.” If you’d like, print this three-page FREE PRINTABLE PRAYER DECK (try paper that’s a bit jazzy on the other side) and laminate them for longer use.
9. Help them pray Bible verses, perhaps one they’re memorizing. I like to print out free adult coloring pages with Scripture verses my kids can pray, and play some Seeds Family Worship music in the background as we color together.
How do you do it? How do you incorporate your kids in a life of prayer?
Join the discussion in the comment section!
Copyright © Janel Breitenstein 2017
2 thoughts on “Teaching Your Elementary Kids to Pray”
We pray each day on the way to school, for the leaders of the school and our country, for special requests (sickness, travel, etc.) and for our hearts and actions to honor the Lord. Sometimes I pray, sometimes they pray,
On the way home from school I ask each child what they talk to God about that day? When we go to bed, we remember to be grateful and once again talk with God. It’s such a normal part of our day.
Love it. Great tips, Missy.