Teaching Young Kids to Pray

In a daily newspaper column, Dr. Billy Graham received the following question from a 7-year-old boy: “Will God hear my prayers, or does He just hear my parents’ prayers?” This question reminds us of the importance of teaching the children whom God has given to us clearly, intentionally and knowledgeably in the areas of spiritual discipline.

WHY teach preschoolers and children to pray?

Jesus clearly taught His disciples that children were important to Him and they could be taught spiritual truths. In the Gospel of Mark we read: “Some people were bringing little children to Him so He might touch them, but His disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw it, He was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the children come to Me. Don’t stop them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these’… After taking them in His arms, He laid His hands on them and blessed them” (Mark 10:13-17). Jesus welcomed the parents and the children they were bringing to Him. By taking time for the children, Jesus showed the parents and the disciples that children are valuable and worthy of our time, relationships and instruction.

Preschoolers and children can and will learn about prayer and how to pray if they have significant adults in their lives who are willing to teach them. In the Old Testament the child Samuel was a gift from God to a praying mother. As a result of this answered prayer, Samuel was taken to the temple to be taught by Eli the priest. God spoke to Samuel at a very young age and gave him a message to give to Eli, a man who had not always been obedient to the Lord. Eli said to Samuel: “What was the message He gave you? Don’t hide it from me.” Samuel gave God’s message to Eli, and Samuel grew and the Lord was with him (1 Sam. 3:17-19). From this passage we see the value and importance God placed on one small boy.

HOW early can we teach preschoolers and children to pray?

When a child is born, there exists a potential for the child to have a relationship with his Creator. From birth the child develops physically, mentally, socially, emotionally and spiritually. Significant adults need to nurture the spiritual development of preschoolers by teaching them prayer is a way to talk to the God who created them.

We can teach the very young child about prayer by using appropriate language. In their presence we can thank God for their very lives, the provisions of life, the Bible as a gift to us from God, and the people placed in our families and church. “Thank you, God” should be the first prayer taught to the developing child. As the child grows, the prayers can be expanded to include more relationships and content. Older children can be introduced to more developmentally appropriate ways of learning about prayer and how to pray.

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Marcia McQuitty is associate professor of childhood education at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.