I don't remember when my first child began to pray at meals but I remember when we started bed time prayers. She was almost four and she had stayed with the same sitter since she was 8 weeks old. We had changed to a daycare and she was having trouble adjusting. She loved playing with the other kids and learning at class time but nap time was not her favorite. Drop off had become a battle and we had tried everything to get her to stop crying every morning. One night in a moment of desperation (isn't that how we often come to God) I told her we would pray for God to go with her to daycare so she would not be alone. After a few days of bedtime prayers the crying stopped. And a new bedtime routine had begun. As situations in life came up we would pray about them and slowly added people to our prayer list. Our 3rd child is beginning to pray at meals and here are a few things I have learned.
- Pray in front of your children. Kid watch what you do and they copy what they see. Our 2 year old has recently started saying "I pay! I pay!" (I pray) at meals. He has watched his brother and sister pray at meals for 2 1/2 years. He knows this is what we do and he wants to participate like any other member of the family.
- Keep it simple. We start with "God, thank you for this food. Amen." Or at bedtime "Thank you for this day." These are words toddlers can pronounce and are probably familiar with. It doesn't take much time so you won't lose their attention. As kids get older I try to ask them to think of one thing they are thankful for and to thank God for that person or thing. I hope to instill an attitude of gratefulness.
- Don't force them. We ask " Do you want to pray?" If the answer is " no" it's no big deal. I don't ever want to force my children to pray.
- Praying with your children will change your prayer time. You will find yourself with more things you want to talk to God about and not enough time in the short bedtime prayer time. Plus there are things that you will want to discuss with God that are not appropriate for little ears. Which brings me to...
- Keep it age appropriate. When we pray for sick people we discuss basics. Not how serious cancer is or life expectancy.
- Pray for people you know and things that concern your children. Make it personal. Some days your kids will come up with people they want to pray for on their own. Encourage that. If something or someone has been the subject of your conversation throughout the day pray for that person. One of my 6 year olds friends had appendicitis and surgery recently. We had been to the hospital to check on him so it made sense to pray for him that night.
- Handling disappointment. I'm not sure if you've experienced this or not but God doesn't answer all my prayers the way I expect. Maybe you are just more in tune with the Holy Spirit and know exactly what you are supposed to be praying for. But in my life things don't always work out the way I expect or sometimes want them to. So how do you handle this with kids? This is where one of the biggest opportunities to teach your child about trusting God comes into play. We pray and we trust God for the answer. It's not my child's responsibility if things don't work out. (For the record adults, it's not yours either.)
It's a tough world to raise children who love Jesus. As parents it's our job to teach them about Jesus and how to pray. If you have any tips feel free to comment and leave them below!