Prayer is an essential element of Christian life. It is our primary means to “come to God”. Jesus made clear that children belong just as much to His Kingdom as adults, when He said: “Let the children come to Me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:16). So how can we teach a child to pray?
Pray for your child
First of all, when our children are still too young to pray for themselves, we should start immediately to pray on their behalf. This is first of all the responsibility of the parents. But you can also think of grandparents, friends, or church members… In 1 Timothy 2:1, Paul urges “that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people”, and this includes our little ones who cannot yet pray for themselves.
Pray with your child
One important way for a child to learn new things, is by imitating adults. Young children love to cook meals in their toy kitchen, or to care for their baby doll just like they see adults around them doing. This also goes for our daily walk with the Lord. If children see and hear us praying for a meal, at bedtime, or during church services, this will function as an example for them.
Of course, they won’t understand what we are doing when they are babies, but gradually they will get an impression of what it means to communicate with a God they can’t see. And they will probably ask what we are doing, which gives us the opportunity to explain and to teach them about prayer.
How should children pray?
When children are very young, they won’t yet be able to speak coherent sentences. But we can start teaching them simple prayer songs. Later, they can add their own words of spontaneous prayer.
Another thing which children can learn early on, is a reverent attitude towards prayer. When we pray with them, let them close their eyes and fold their hands to help them concentrate on the prayer without being distracted by things they see or feel at that moment.
Prayer is communication with our holy God, and that requires our full attention and a devoted heart. That should be reflected in our outward attitude, which is something children need to practice too.
What should children pray for?
Philippians 4:6 exhorts us to “in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” This also applies to children. They can make their requests known to God, and they might come up with requests we adults did not even think of. They are invited to pour out their hearts before God, just as adults are. Of course, adults have the responsibility to counsel children.
If a child wants to pray for something God’s Word clearly forbids, we should explain to them why this is not a good idea. If the child wants to pray for material riches, this is fine, but we should teach them that material wealth is not the most important and not something God will automatically give believers. These examples make clear that teaching our child to pray, is always embedded in the whole of our Christian upbringing.
A simple guideline to help children develop a balanced prayer life, is explained here. This guideline takes the child’s hand as a starting point to:
(1) praise God;
(2) thank God for His blessings;
(3) say sorry for our sins;
(4) pray for others, and;
(5) pray for ourselves.
These are all important elements of prayer, that our children should practice as they grow up.
When should children pray?
Learning to pray takes time and practice. It is helpful to have set prayer times in your daily schedule. This can be when the child wakes up, or at meal times, or when the child is put to bed, or maybe other moments are more suitable for your family.
When your child is young, you will pray for him/her most of the time. When your child grows up, you can pray together, and finally he/she will also be able to pray on his/her own.
Of course, this does not replace your prayers as a parent/grandparent/friend/fellow believer. These remain important too! But the general advice from Proverbs 22:6 also applies to prayer: “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”