These 6 tips will help Christian parents to teach their children how to learn to pray out loud or silently. Easy ideas for kids to know what to say when praying scripture or anytime. Includes a printable with 40 simple prayers for kids.
One night not long ago, sweet Allie was crying in her bed. Her heart was hurting because she has only one good friend, and that girl wasn't available to talk when she needed some social contact.
She cried and cried, and the only thing I could say to help ease her pain was to suggest we pray.
"But what do I say?" she asked me.
"Well," I replied, "You can just ask Jesus to help you make more friends. How about that?"
"Okay," she said shakily, sighing a big sigh. "I'll try it."
And then she asked Jesus to help her to make more friends and to make her new friends loyal to her and devoted to her and never talk about her behind her back. It was a beautiful prayer that I know touched the heart of God just as it touched my heart.
Fortunately, my sweet girl wasn't afraid to open up to Jesus. But she might well have been because prayer is not a big part of her life. We don't pray together on a daily basis, even though we did when she was younger. Most of the time, we stay up too late and collapse into bed, trying to be quiet because Joe has gone to bed an hour or more before us.
When we do pray, it's almost always at Allie's prompting, but those occasions don't happen every day or even every week. It's something I need to do better at as a mom.
Here's what I have done in the past:
6 Important Ways Kids Can Learn to Pray
- Prompt them with pre-written prayers. I made up some simple but beautiful prayer cards for my kids. Each in the set of 40 cards has a short prayer on it that the child can read out loud or in her head and offer a simple prayer to God. The cards feature messages that kids care about - protect me and my parents, help me to do good, and thank you Jesus for your love.
- Remind them that there is no wrong way to pray. The cards I made are beautiful because they feature a variety of styles and words. They help kids to understand that there is no one right way or wrong way to address the Lord, as long as you come with humility and gratitude.
Yes, the Bible says that The Lord's Prayer (in Matthew 6) should be the model of all our prayers, and I totally agree with that, but if our goal is to get our children to open up to Jesus and begin a dialogue, I think that the mechanics of a "good" prayer can be left for later learning. The important thing first is just to begin a relationship, and that can be small and unscripted without all of the elements of more formal prayer.
I have taught my children that the only requirements of a prayer are that we open with a greeting like "Dear Jesus" and close with Amen, and even those really are optional when you get right down to it. But using a beginning and an ending can help with kids who don't know what to say.
- Teach the 5 finger method. If your child has moved past the simple prayers on the prayer cards, the next step is to teach her the parts of a prayer from The Lord's Prayer: praise, confession, intercession (asking God to intercede or work in certain situations), and thanksgiving. You can teach these simply using kid language by attaching each one to a finger.
The thumb is Praise God. To begin every prayer, we say something about God's greatness, about who He is, or about how we want His name to be made most high.
The pointer finger is Give thanks. The next thing is to thank God for all the wonderful things He's given us. I usually try to think of 3 things here.
The middle finger is Confess sins. The third thing is to tell God what you have done wrong and ask Him to forgive you for it. This can be secret, just between you and God, so don't worry about getting in trouble. God already knows what you have done, and He is just waiting for you to talk to Him about it and say you're sorry.
The ring finger is Pray for others. The fourth thing to pray about is for God to help other people, whether that's a friend or family member, a teacher or preacher or someone you don't know like the president.
The pinkie is to Pray for yourself. This is the last part of the prayer, and like the little finger, should be the smallest. God doesn't want a laundry list of all the things we want from Him, but He does allow us to make requests. So I encourage my kids to pray for the truest desires of their hearts and not just everything on the Christmas list. I hope that makes sense.
- Use physical reminders. Whether your kids are just learning to pray or have been praying for years, they may need a little help in remembering what to pray for. The 5 finger method is helpful, but since the words aren't actually on their fingers, they may forget. This is where it can be useful to write the different categories on index cards and put the cards on a binder ring. When you make these cards, you can write Praise God, Give thanks (3 things), Confess sins, Pray for others (and include cards after this one with different names - Grandma, Mom, Dad, Brother, Sister, Teacher, Neighbor - listed out by name), and Pray for yourself. These cards are simple to make and will prompt your child to remember what to say.
- Do a popcorn prayer. When I was a high school teacher, I did popcorn reading all the time. The idea was that one person would start reading and stop at the end of a sentence (not necessarily the end of a paragraph) and say "Popcorn Sarah" and then Sarah would start reading where the first person stopped. Sarah had to be paying close attention so she would know where to begin. My only requirement was that you had to read one full sentence, but this helped kids who didn't like to or weren't comfortable reading out loud to be able to pass the buck without losing face.
The same popcorn principle can work for group prayers. Someone can start and say a few words or sentences, and then say "popcorn Mom" and Mom can say a few words or sentences and pass it on to someone else. Helping your kids to pray in this way not only models effective prayer, it gives them confidence in the fact that they are contributing and talking to God Himself without the pressure of having to do the whole thing on their own.
- Pray scripture. One easy way to have words to pray is to read Scripture to God. The Psalms are full of prayers to read, but there are lots more than that too. The idea is this: instead of reading the verse the way it is written, you make it into a request. I'll write a whole post on this soon, but in the meantime, try making these verses from these passages into prayers:
- Psalm 2
- Psalm 19
- Psalm 25
- Psalm 40
- Psalm 55
- Psalm 86
- Psalm 119
- Psalm 139
- 1 John 5:14
- Hebrews 4:12
- 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
- Mark 8:31-38
- Philippians 4
Prayer can be hard for children to grasp since they are talking to someone they can't see or hear. There is no on-going conversation for them because they most often haven't learned to hear the still small voice of God yet. (Some adults don't know that voice even!)
But learning to pray is valuable for all Christian kids. Prayer changes situations, and it changes hearts. Prayer is super important for all of us.
I'm glad that I set these habits long ago, even though we have gotten away from them. Fortunately, it's not hard to pick back up with them again, and I am eager to get started with both of my kids but especially sweet Allie.