How Do You Help Children Develop the Habit of Prayer?
By: BRENDA TRUNKHILL
Lent is a time of introspection and prayer for many Christians. Is it for our youngest Christians too? Perhaps Lent is a good time for us not only to reflect on our sins and God’s grace to us through Christ’s suffering and death, but also to reflect on how our daily routines can make the most of every opportunity to teach even very young children how to regularly talk to God.
When you first think of children praying, what image comes to mind? Perhaps a child kneeling by his or her bedside? I know that’s what Mr. Google and Mrs. Bing think of first. What do you think . . . is that an outdated, old-fashioned image? Do people really do that anymore?
I hope so. As a child, I didn’t. As a parent, I didn’t do it with my own children. But since we know children are kinesthetic learners and remember more when physically engaged, doesn’t kneeling make sense? Why not model for our children that when we are so very sorry for the wrong things we’ve done during the day (teach the word confess and model asking forgiveness for specific sins), we get down on our knees in humble repentance? Why not model for our children that when we so desperately long for our heavenly Father to provide something, we humbly kneel and implore it of Him? Why not model for our children that when we’re in awe of God’s majesty and power, we kneel in humble respect and adoration?
Can you imagine a household of children all on their knees? Can you imagine an entire classroom of preschoolers kneeling next to their cots at nap time—if that’s their routine right after lunch? How powerful would that be! If you do that, let us know how it works.
I was inspired by a teacher at the Texas District Early Childhood Conference I went to in January who had a great idea to have the children physically involved in prayer—use manipulatives as prayer starters. (Please forgive me for not writing your name down so I can give you credit!) She lets her children choose three items out of the prayer basket to pray for, such as a car to remind them to pray for safe travel, a sun to remind them to pray for good weather, a dog to remind them to pray for their pets, and so on. Could you not also do that at an individual level, for them to use independently at bedtime/nap time . . . as they kneel in prayer?
Model the prayer at group time with real toys, but then provide them each with their own set of laminated pictures of those and other objects to manipulate on their own. Keep the pictures in an envelope with a clasp or have someone in your congregation make or buy little prayer boxes or chests they can set the pictures inside. The children can lay out the pictures and put one away at a time when they’re done praying for that person/thing, or they can use a stack of the pictures and put the picture in the back of the pile when they’re done. Have a set group of pictures that you always use (e.g., house, school, church), but each week consider adding one or two pictures from your congregation’s prayer list. Use the church pictorial directory to photocopy the face of a homebound member or someone who’s sick. Explain to the children why we should keep that person in our prayers, and then be sure to let that person know that “the preschoolers prayed for you this week.”
I’m sharing an idea I haven’t tried myself (yikes!), but I just think it would be a neat way to have the children physically involved in praying each petition. It would promote independent prayer, and the visual would provide a concrete way for them to focus on the prayer request. Though CPH likely wouldn’t be able to develop manipulatives for this prayer basket, it does provide many resources for teaching children to pray. A classic is A Child’s Garden of Prayer—which, like teaching a child to kneel at bedtime, never goes out of style. One that helps children talk to God about their feelings is the God, I Need to Talk to You about . . . series. And don’t miss the latest issue of Happy Times, which deals exclusively with the topic of prayer.
May God encourage you and bless your efforts to teach your children to regularly talk with their heavenly Father during routine times. We often hear a child ask a parent, “Play with me!” How cool would it be if, just as frequently, we hear, “Pray with me!” As you share prayers with your children, I’d like to share one with you that’s been passed along—one you can use that physically engages children with hand motions. It’s based on an Irish blessing shared at the Texas District conference by Pastor Doug Bielefeldt.
As you begin another new day, may Jesus be with you each step of the way:
May He be above you to watch over you. (Psalm 5:11)
May He be beneath you to catch you if you stumble and fall. (Psalm 37:24)
May He be behind you to protect you from evil. (Matthew 6:13)
May He be beside you as your Shepherd, so you are never alone. (Psalm 23:4)
May He be in your heart through faith, because He loves you so. (Ephesians 3:17)
About Concordia Publishing House
Concordia Publishing House (CPH) is the publishing arm of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. For 150 years, CPH has been providing individuals, churches, and schools with products that are faithful to the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions. From books and Bibles to church supplies, curriculum, and software, CPH offers over 10,000 products to support the proclamation of the Gospel worldwide. Visit CPH online at cph.org.