Are children ever too young to pray?

This week, I’ve received several Facebook messages from some of our followers, asking if I’m still alive and if I’m still writing this blog. Because my last post was in mid-October, and I’ve been very quiet on social media ever since.

The answer is yes and yes!

It’s just that this fall has knocked the wind out of us, and there’s not been much spare time to write.  In addition, when the opportunity has presented itself, I’ve chosen to focus on planning for future blog posts surrounding the season of Advent. We have a lot in store this Christmas, and you’ll find us in your inbox, Facebook news feed, or Twitter feed very regularly, very soon.  So thanks for sticking with us through the dry spell.

One of the messages I recently received was from a mom I’ve never met.  And it included a question about teaching young children to pray. It was the first message I’ve received from one of our readers posing a question about any issue.  And given my heart’s passion for the subjects of parenting and prayer, I was thrilled!  (Hint:  If you will take the time to message me a question through our Confessions of a Pastor’s Family Facebook page, I might address your question in a blog post!)

So here it goes.

The Question (in summary):  Are my 14 month old quadruplets too young to learn to pray?  If not, how do I teach them?

My Answer:  It’s never too soon to begin teaching children to pray.  But this is an area where action will precede belief.  As a result, depending on the age of the child, the focus may begin solely with the mechanics of prayer (how to pray).  With consistency, though, the teaching will transition into the heart of prayer (why we pray).  If your kids look at you like your crazy when you pray with them, that’s OK.  Press on.  They’ll eventually join in!

There are countless ways that we can integrate prayer into the lives of our children, but I’ve listed six activities below to help get you started.  We’ve used all of these with our kids, and they’ve served us well.  I hope they help you!

Prayer Before Meals:

We began praying with each of our children before their feedings as soon as they were able to sit in a high chair.  We placed their hands in ours, closed our eyes, and recited a standard prayer that is a long-standing tradition in my husband’s family:

Come Lord Jesus, Be our guest

Let this food to us be blessed

Make us mindful for the needs of others

We ask in your name,

Amen.

With our first-born, we did this three times per day, 7 days per week as a matter of course.  (And yes, she looked at us like we were crazy at first and tried to pull her hands out of ours.)  Honestly, we weren’t sure if anything was connecting until one day, because we were in a hurry, we tried to skip prayer.

Shame. On. Us.

She lost it!

And she refused to eat.

At first, we thought she didn’t like what we were serving, but then we figured it out.  It was because we upset her routine by not saying a prayer.  So we sat down, placed her hands in ours, said a prayer, and the fit was over.  Did she understand the prayer we prayed?  Probably not.  But we successfully created a habit.  And that’s a good place to start.  As a result, we stayed the course with our boys and saw similar results.  (To my mom-of-quads reader: To start, consider grabbing hands with one of your children at each meal, rotating around the table throughout the day.)

Prayer Before Bed:

At night, either Kory or I (and sometimes both of us) tucks each of our kids into bed.  We read stories, kiss and hug, have a little bit of conversation, and end in prayer.  These prayers are what we refer to as “Dear God” prayers.  They are not memorized, and they change daily depending on what’s going on in our lives, struggles we may be having, and people we need to remember.  When the kids were very young, we led the prayer, asking them to repeat each line back to us once they learned to talk.  But as they grew older, we started asking them what they wanted to pray for and then asking them to lead.  We were amazed at the prayers they prayed, even as young as three years old!  (Yes, they prayed for some silly things, but they also prayed some mighty prayers with a beautifully simple child-like faith that helped us stay grounded in our own.)

Daily Devotions:

At six months of age, we began doing daily devotions with our children as they sat in their high chair after breakfast.  We used a book called Jesus in Pictures for Little Eyes by Kenneth Taylor, which is filled with simple, short Bible stories and pictures, followed by a question.  We read the story, asked the question, answered the question for our children (until they were capable of answering for themselves), and ended with a short prayer (placing their hands in ours just as at meal time).  Not only did this serve as additional practice in the area of prayer, but also it served as some very basic Bible teaching.  I’ll never forget the day I opened that book, showed our daughter the picture that accompanied the story we were going to read, and at just over twelve months old, she said “Moses!,” pointing to the man in the picture.  She was right!  Kenneth Taylor has several other books in this series that are tremendous for babies, toddlers, and pre-schoolers.  We’ve used his books so much that we’ve had to replace several of them more than once!

Three Things We’re Thankful For:

We spend a lot of time in the car.  And since our kids are held captive, we don’t allow electronics in the car, and we have control over the radio, we try to use some of our car time to steer the conversation in certain directions.  (You can’t blame us, right?)  One of the things we often do is play Three Things We’re Thankful For.  This activity is pretty simple.  Each person in the car takes time to share three things they’re thankful for.  Sometimes we start with the oldest.  Other times with the youngest.  Sometimes we go alphabetically.  And other times, we choose the order at random.  The only rule is that there can be no repeats (except with the very youngest children who just don’t understand that concept.)  At the end of the sharing time, one of the children will lead us in a prayer of thanksgiving, trying to remember some of the specific things that were shared by each person in the car.  If your children are really young and can’t actively participate in this game, play it with your spouse or another passenger in the car and lead by example.  They’ll catch on eventually and ask to join in!

Prayers of Reconciliation:

Any time we engage our children in correction, we send them to their room for thinking time before we begin the correction process so that they can gain self-control.  (When they were toddlers, we put them in their crib, high chair, or play pen.)  I could write an entire blog post on this process of correction because it’s a beautiful thing, but it always ends in prayer.  When our kids were really young and weren’t yet engaged in willful disobedience, the prayers were simple, thanking God for his love and asking God to help them remember not to engage in whatever action we were correcting.  As they got older and began to be more willfully disobedient, we began teaching them how to ask for forgiveness.  Either way, the prayers are always followed by hugs and kisses, and the behavior is never mentioned again.

Lead By Example:

Finally, and most importantly, if we want to have praying kids, then we need to be praying parents.  It’s that simple.  So it’s critical that our children see us reading our Bible and praying regularly.  They learn a lot from watching us, and we have a tremendous opportunity to influence them by our own actions.

When we began each of these activities with our first-born at the age of six months, we were skeptically following the advice of some more experienced parents in our lives.  But time after time, at the very youngest of ages, our kids have bowled us over by what they understand and what they are capable of in the area of prayer and Bible teaching.  Now at the ages of 10 and 7, our two oldest children pray often.  Our youngest will pray as well…but only when it’s his idea!  Sometimes they pray with us (still regularly at meals and bedtime), and other times, we find them praying quietly alone.  But either way, we are seeing fruit from the labor, and we see evidence that our children are discovering the power of prayer for themselves.

And our prayer for you is that your children might do the same!

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