Prayer is an adventure—a life-creating, life-changing journey into a closer relationship with God. That’s why it’s so important that parents, teachers and children’s workers know how to teach children to pray.
Prayer is the main avenue God uses to change us and to guide our lives. Richard Foster says it well: “Prayer catapults us into the frontier of the spiritual life.”
As Christians, we know the importance of prayer in our own lives. But are we using prayer as God intended it to be—the way to plug into his power in our lives? Corrie ten Boom gives us a good word picture: “Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire?” Consider that image as you explore how to teach children to pray.
Insights About How to Teach Children to Pray
A child’s heart is tender to the teachings of God, and young children are eager to pray. Prayer becomes a spiritual security blanket where they learn to turn to God and trust in Him. Jesus is real to children as they get to know him as their friend first and then as their Savior. Remember: Kids are eager and excited to converse with Jesus!
Jesus Models Prayer
Through the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus teaches his followers how to pray. Children need us to model prayer for them because that’s how they learn best. Nothing is more effective than praying with and for your children each day.
John 17 reveals the progression in prayer that Jesus models. He prays for himself—that he might bring honor and glory to the Father. Then he prays for people closest to him, the disciples. Finally, he prays for all believers.
Partnership in Prayer
In the Bible, we read about young Samuel, who hears God’s voice. Yet Samuel still needs Eli’s loving encouragement to guide and teach him how to obey what he hears from God. As parents and teachers, let us embrace the God-given partnership we have in training our children to hear and obey God. It’s more difficult today, because our culture is so immersed in activity, and our senses are saturated.
How, then, can we hear God’s still, small voice? How can we train children to listen quietly when we’re bombarded in sound? We need to show them how to listen to the silence so they can hear God. We also want children to learn to pray Scripture as we discover how to teach children to pray.
A good starting point is to read Psalm 46:10 to children and invite them to pray the first part of the verse quietly. He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”
How Should We Pray?
Set aside time each day in your home or classroom for prayer. Begin by simply being quiet, helping children become comfortable with silence. Then they can begin reflecting on the presence of God, the person of Jesus, and the power of the Holy Spirit and God’s Word.
Share a short Bible verse to reflect on, or a quality of God, or something Jesus said in his teachings. Or sing a short hymn or song and then ask children to think about the words during a brief time of silence.
Young children’s attention span is short, so keep the time for reflective silence age-appropriate. Perhaps start with 15 seconds, then 30 seconds, then one minute. Gradually add short increments of time as children mature. After a quiet time of reflection, lead the children into spoken prayer. This is a simple, effective way for how to teach children to pray.
Try This Easy Idea
In my book Cherishing and Challenging Your Children, I share some specific techniques and examples for how to teach children to pray. One simple idea also serves as a helpful reminder for adults.
“Wiggle your thumb and say something in praise to Jesus. This is our J.”
“Wiggle your middle finger for O for others and pray for others: family, friends, teachers, pastors, missionaries, etc.”
“Finally we wiggle our little finger for Y, and Y is for you. We pray for ourselves last.” (That can be confusing for little ones. You may have to explain that the “y” is for “u,” which is how they will hear it.)
We find JOY when we remember to put Jesus first, the needs of others next, and finally, ourselves. I must confess I have to remind myself of this simple method on a regular basis. Otherwise, my prayers begin to sound like a “To-Do List for God.” This JOY system helps me keep my priorities in order as an adult.