Not that long ago, I stood at my front door watching my oldest child drive off by himself for the very first time. I was a combination of nerves and excitement; this was a day we had planned, practiced, and prepared for. It was a giant step toward independence for him and letting go for me.
As parents and teachers, we pass on a lot of skills to our kids. How often, though, do we think about the spiritual “skills” they’re learning from us? Are we as intentional about preparing them to grow in their relationship with God, as we are with their next step toward physical independence? We teach them how to ride a bike, we prepare them for the big soccer tryout and eventually teach them to drive, but for some reason, life can fly before we realize we haven’t taught them how to talk to God.
No matter how old your kids or students are, it’s not too late. I’ve outlined a few practical tips for teaching children to pray, but keep in mind we have to be intentional, or life will get away from us. There is an enemy who will distract and intimidate us, but God is greater. Seek Him as you begin, and He will give you wisdom and strength for this task.
Perhaps the most powerful way we teach children to pray is by modeling it. Can you imagine learning to play baseball by only reading a book and never having seen a game? In the same way, children need to see and hear us pray to learn how to do it themselves. As they’ll observe us, they’ll learn lessons like how to approach God (humbly, but confidently). They’ll figure out when they can pray (at church, at school, at home, before meals, at the end of our day, and every time in between). And they’ll learn why we pray: (to thank God, to worship Him, to ask for forgiveness, and much more). As children see us pray, they’ll learn to do it themselves.
Children are great memorizers! Even before they can read, they can learn simple prayers that will teach them how to approach their heavenly Father. Additionally, giving kids words to say to God when they are young helps build confidence as they grow. Start by teaching your children simple meal and bedtime prayers, but also make sure to include biblical prayers. Once they’ve learned the words of the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-15), for example, you can build on their understanding by asking questions after you recite it. One day you might follow the prayer with, “Why do you think we call God our Father?” or “What do you think Jesus meant when He told us to pray for daily bread? Can we pray for other things too?” Learning prayers from the Bible and other Christians sources can bring great opportunities for growth.
Talking to their Father
We should also encourage children to talk to God using their own words. Regularly tell children that their heavenly Father loves them, values them, and wants to hear from them. Give them opportunities to pray aloud, so they know their prayers are valuable and needed in your home and church. Finally, be patient with them. Some children are nervous about praying out loud, so continue to invite them to pray, but don’t badger them. Do everything to make your prayer time inviting and safe, and you may be surprised at the confidence God will give them.
Teaching Types of Prayer
Not only do we want our children to know they can talk with God anytime, but we also want them to understand different ways we pray. The ACTS acronym is a simple tool to help us remember four types of prayer: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication.
Prayers of adoration acknowledge God’s greatness by pointing out His many attributes, such as His perfect love, patience, power, or trustworthiness.
Next, prayers of confession give space to acknowledge our sinfulness and need for God. Our children must repeatedly hear that they cannot save themselves but must rely on Christ completely for forgiveness and restoration.
When we take time to thank God, we help our children understand that every good thing we have is a gift from Him. Additionally, prayers of thanksgiving help us grow in joy and gratitude.
Finally, we ask for God’s help with prayers of supplication. From the time they are very little, children can know that God wants to hear about everything they need. Enthusiastically encourage them to pray about all their concerns, and we have reason to hope that they’ll continue to go to Him as they age, and life gets harder. Don’t forget to push them outward with their prayers too. Pray with them for friends, family, and people all over the world.
Making Prayer a Habit
Finally, stay in the practice of prayer. Have you ever been in a great exercise routine and then stopped for a busy schedule or injury? Usually, it’s much harder to start back up than it ever was to keep going. Prayer is the same way - once we’re out of the rhythm, it’s hard to get back into the habit. Be intentional about praying with your children one-on-one and as a family. At home, take turns praying before dinner. At bedtime, pray out loud and then allow for a few moments of silent prayer. As a teacher designate regular times to pray, but also willingly stop and pray spontaneously as needed. When we teach children to pray, we give something much greater than any practical skill; we are giving them a piece of our most treasured family inheritance.