As an adult, there have been times in my life when I struggled with saying the “right” prayer. I didn’t know how to start, what to say, or if I even had anything to say at all. Should I close my eyes? Should I look up? Should I kneel? Sometimes all of the questions around “how” to pray got in the way of the actual purpose for prayer in the first place – deepening the relationship that I have with God.
As I’ve brought up my kids, I’ve noticed that they sometimes struggle with the same things. They don’t know what to say or how to say it. They get into a routine and say the same things over and over, no longer really paying attention to what it is they’re praying.
So, just as we try to teach dining etiquette during meals and social skills in public, my husband and I have tried different things through the years to teach the kids how to pray.
Sorry, Thank You, Please
The sorry, thank you, please prayer is one I blatantly stole from a friend of mine who uses it with her children. It’s a very simple way for the kids to order their prayers so that they can stay focused instead of going down the rabbit-hole of rambling during prayer time. Basically, they start with saying something that they did that day they are sorry for. It could be anything that they feel regret about, whether they got in trouble or not. (As an aside here, I try very hard not to comment on the sorry part, especially if it’s something I wasn’t aware of. I want them to feel safe saying these prayers in front of me without worrying what I think. We can always talk about it if it’s serious at another time). Next they thank God for something – it could be people in their life, events that they experienced, or even a favorite toy (thank you for my stuffed panda is VERY common). Finally, they say please. Please God watch over my dad while he’s at work. Or Please help me to pass my math test tomorrow. You get the idea.
The Lord’s Prayer
Sometimes the kids just can’t come up with something to say. Or perhaps there’s so much going on in their hearts and minds that the words won’t come out. That’s ok, too. I tell them God can hear what’s unspoken, but they can say the words that God gave us to say. So we’ll recite the Lord’s Prayer.
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever, Amen. (Matthew 6:9-13)
Hearing your four year old say hollow instead of hallowed and desk instead of debts is also fun.
Book of Prayers
Another helpful resource we have found are children’s books of prayers, which you can find online or in book stores. Sometimes they’re in children’s devotional books or in storybook bibles. One of my daughters has one that she pulls out every now and then when she can’t think of anything to say. As long as she doesn’t do this every single night without attempting to speak her own thoughts, I think it’s great to get new ideas and new ways to say things.
As the kids have gotten older, we have talked more about conversational prayers. God is your father. Have a conversation with him. Tell him what you’re thinking and feeling, ask Him questions, and ask Him for his advice or help. Think about what you know is true about His character, and talk about that with Him. My second oldest daughter likes to tell jokes to God sometimes, although sometimes she gets bummed because she thinks He doesn’t laugh since He already knows the punchline before she says it. It’s a conundrum.
This one is the hardest for me because my head is constantly filled with noise, but we’ve tried to explain to the kids the importance of just listening sometimes. You don’t have to fill your prayer time with words. Let there be silence. Be still and open your heart. Don’t think about your worries or struggles or plans, instead listen for His plans. Listen for that whisper that is just for you, and that you may only hear in the quiet.
One of the most amazing things about being a parent is that I’m continuously finding that by trying to teach my kids something I learn more about it myself. Whether it’s researching American Indians with my seven year old or trying to help the ten year old get through the death of a beloved pet, I find that the more I teach them, the more I learn from them.
Now if I can just get the four year old to stop praying that she’ll have a nightmare so she can crawl into bed with mommy and daddy.