When we teach our child how to pray, we show them how to have relationship with Jesus. It’s the most important life skill our child needs. As a parent, you have the privilege of making this introduction—for the most significant relationship your child will ever have. Whether your child is a toddler or teen, let’s get the conversation started!
Episode 7 Resources: Get the Conversation About Jesus Started
- Philippians 2:4
- James 4.8
- Join me on Instagram @teresadglenn
- Grab a copy of my book Becoming A Peaceful Mom ~ Through Every Season of Raising Your Child
Read Episode 7 Transcript
Remember the first time your child spoke her version of your name or the first attempt she made to communicate something to you? Each time I squealed, You know my name! You’re saying something to me! Imagine the day God hears your child try to say his name—or, his view of your child’s heart and the sound of her first words to him?
God created your child for a relationship with him. As a parent, you have the privilege of making this introduction—for the most significant relationship your child will ever have.
Whether your child is a toddler or teen, let’s get the conversation started! If your child is older than the examples I give, no problem. Just modify the language or your approach in a way that works for you.
If your child can repeat the names of people or objects, she can learn Jesus’ name. If she can learn to say ‘cup pweez’ when she sees it on the counter, she can learn to copy simple words of prayer from you. When I began to teach our children to pray, I always started with, “Let’s talk to Jesus.” Sometimes we were about to eat a meal and could close our eyes and hold our hands together, but plenty of times we were in the car or walking somewhere and I was holding one of the children in my arms. Posture is not the main thing; that we pray is.
When we begin to teach our child how to pray (no matter what age they are), we show them how to have relationship with Jesus and how to make it personal, just between the two of them. It is the most important life skill our child needs.
Children need to hear us pray, to learn how to pray and to witness that we pray in all sorts of places, for lots of varied circumstances, and throughout the day. Pray the way you talk. Be yourself and keep it simple.
Maybe you don’t pray that much, or the prayers you say are ones you memorized at some point. . . Each person’s prayer life will build upon your unique history and your desire to grow close to God. If you’re learning more about prayer right alongside your child, you are being God’s disciple and faithfully making a disciple.
A meal, even snack time, is a common beginning place to practice praying. If you are introducing prayer, it might be helpful to briefly explain why you’re going to pray. For example, “God made this food and all the ingredients in it. He also provided the money for us to be able to buy it. Let’s thank Him.” Tell your child that you will pray and they can listen. Speak slowly and use words that they understand and can readily use once they begin to pray. After a few days of this, you can teach really young children to repeat phrases of prayer after you. I call this a copycat prayer. Here’s what it sounded like around our table: “Dear Jesus (Dear Jeejee), Thank you for this food (‘Tank ‘dis food). Please bless it. (Pees bes it). Amen (‘men).”
Ease older children in by preparing them that soon everyone at the table is going to participate in thanking God for our food. Your genuine, simple, and slow-speaking example for a couple of weeks provides assurance that praying isn’t hard. At first, maybe each child can thank God for one item on their plate, to get comfortable with praying out loud in front of each other. Then transition to taking turns so that one person says the prayer at each meal.
While a child prays, pray silently for that child. Don’t comment on her prayer, so she doesn’t begin to think of it as a performance. Instead, you could speak an edifying word like, “Thank you for leading us today in thanking God.”
Pray out loud at bedtime and thank God for people and events of the day. When a child is sick or gets hurt, ask God to comfort and heal your child and encourage the child to ask for healing, too. Teach your child how to pray for things she hopes for: “God, will you let the rain stop for my birthday party?” Prompt them to thank God at every opportunity: “Thank you, Jesus, for: my teacher . . . that a friend could come over to play . . . for a new toy . . . that I made the team . . . that I got in the class I wanted to take.”
As you introduce each of these opportunities to talk to God, be the one who says the prayer for awhile. Then, invite a young child into a copycat prayer or an older child to say the prayer. You can end the prayer with a supportive Amen.
Occasionally and casually, encourage their effort. Sometimes after a child prayed, on the way to a birthday party or before a test, I might say, “Jesus loves to hear you talk to Him or God is so glad that you ask him for help.”
When our children were little, they were generally with me when I ran errands. After several disastrous experiences, it dawned on me to pray for them before we got out of the car and to have them ask God for his help. For my sake and theirs, we prayed out loud for God to help them obey and help me to be patient.
So as I would pull into a parking lot, first I would rehearse our rules for the store and then I’d say, “Okay, let’s ask God to help to us in the store. God likes to help us. . . Jesus, please help Terrell, Ellison and Cecilia to be soo good and obey me in the store.” When a child hears her name attached to a positive behavior, it’s personal and encouraging. She hears that God is her helper.
When we returned to the car, if we had a positive experience, I would say something like, “You were so good! Remember when we prayed for God’s help? Let’s thank Him for helping us!”
Like meal prayers, we moved on to copycat prayers and eventually, each child prayed on their own.
I guess you could say errands became like a boot camp for character development for my kids and for me. Some outcomes were discouraging for sure. If one or all of the kids disobeyed, I didn’t always handle that well. Even still, God always helped us, even if we didn’t experience it. He was helping us learn to ask him for help and growing a discipline in us, to depend on him most.
In the apostle Paul’s letter to thePhilippians 2:4 he writes, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interest of others.” When a child prays for someone else, she becomes aware of their need.
We prayed for extended family members, but at the same time I wanted them to learn to pray for anyone in need. One day I shared with them that other people pray for them every day. I named family members and I mentioned that people in our church pray for them, too. I described in simple words some things they pray for them. Then I added, “God wants us to pray for people we don’t know, too. Some people don’t have anyone praying for them.” I remember how surprised I was that their little eyes stayed locked on mine. So often we don’t know what our child is thinking, but we can know that God is moving.
In some of our earliest practice, the children and I prayed out loud every time we saw or heard a fire truck or ambulance. We prayed for God to help them, to keep them safe, and to take care of the people they were going to help. Our words were simple and brief. At first, I prayed in phrases and they repeated after me. As they got a little older, I would ask one child to pray and then all of us would say, “Amen.”
Most of our prayer time for others was in the car on the way to or from somewhere. For example, if a child climbed in the car and mentioned that his teacher wasn’t at school or a classmate got hurt on the playground, I might say, “Let’s ask God to take care of her.” A simple prayer takes seconds, and the child learns how easy it is to talk to God anytime, anywhere, about anything.
When one of the kids prayed for the people in a car accident that we drove by or for someone they saw in a store who looked very sad, I saw purpose in their eyes. They believed that they were doing something significant. I know that I didn’t convince them of this. God shapes compassion and faith in their heart. He will make himself known to our child. He wants them to believe he is the same God that they hear and read about in Bible stories. He wants them to experience that he can change thing and that their prayers matter.
When your child prays, God responds to their prayer according to his perfect will, and He moves in your child’s heart, just as he promises in James letter in 4.8, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.”