When teaching kids to pray, it’s important to teach them more than rhymes and recitations. For children to experience prayer as it is intended to be, they need to be taught how and why to pray.
This is where teaching prayer can get much more complex. There are a lot of competing ideologies about the power and purpose of prayer. We are going to dig into the core teachings from the Bible, especially surrounding Jesus and prayer.
5 Tips For Teaching Kids To Pray
Teaching prayer in a meaningful way is hard because communication is hard! God and all things unseen are difficult to explain to children.
Not only this, but you may have your own hang ups and confusion about prayer. I know I have. So, here’s some tips to keep in mind as you teach your kids about prayer.
1. Show Them How To Pray
Pray. Pray in front of your kids and with your kids. Tell them when you are going to go pray alone.
Talk to your kids about your prayers. Share your prayer requests and invite them to celebrate answers to prayer. Ask how you can pray for them.
2. Teach Prayer According To Their Abilities
A toddler, an 8 year old, and a teenager are all at different learning levels. Praying with your toddler for half an hour is unlikely to go well. Reciting nursery rhyme prayers to your teenager is likely to end up in eye rolls.
Meet your kids where they are at individually. Keep the vocabulary and topics age-appropriate. I would also add that as children develop they start out more in their emotional brain and move more into a rational brain.
Keep toddler prayers very simple and use many feeling words.
Teach preschoolers to pray by having them “join the conversation” with you and Jesus. Encourage and prompt them to echo you or join in the conversation.
Engage more thinking into your prayers with older kids. Ask them if they have questions about prayer and don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know, let’s look it up in scripture” if they ask harder questions. Present hard questions in prayer to God.
3. Use These 4 Great Prayer Tools
Books On Prayer
Try reading from a formal prayer book, kids’ prayer books, and other tools to help you teach your child to pray. Acronyms like P-R-A-Y and A-C-T-S have become popular tools in order to guide our conversations with God.
One great tool I’ve enjoyed is having a prayer journal. So many times I’ve prayed for things then forgotten about them. Having a prayer journal reminds me of all the prayers God has answered. This Prayer Journal Kit from Kingdom Bloggers in full of great tools to help encourage you in your prayer journey as a mom.
Prayer Journal For Kids
And yes, you can also buy kid’s prayer journals – but even a notebook will work just fine. No need to get fancy unless you’d like to or find the guidance helpful.
A Prayer Guide
You can also use a prayer guide or structure for prayer. A mom mentor taught me a 30 minute prayer pattern that goes like this:
3 minutes praising
3 minutes of resting in worship
3 minutes confessing
4 minutes reading the Word
8 minutes petition – ask, seek
3 minutes listening
3 minutes thanking
3 minutes of praise
I found this particularly helpful during a time I was dealing with anxiety. It’s good to try out a variety of tools but not to put any particular weight on them as guaranteeing a result apart from connection to God. It’s important to not create superstitions or put more faith in formulas than God.
4. Don’t Judge How Your Kids Pray
It is always the right time to pray (James 5:13-15). Paul said to, “Pray without ceasing” (I Thessalonians 5:17). If they want to pray on the potty, let them pray. If your kid prays for 30 seconds or 30 minutes, tell them it is good.
There is no condemnation for those in Jesus (Romans 8:1). It’s all too easy to confuse them with ceremony and rules (bow your head, fold your hands, etc.). God welcomes awkward prayers anytime any place. He doesn’t require us to put our bodies in a certain position or say things eloquently.
It’s more important to emphasize to your children the boldness and ease with which we can come to God in prayer. Help your child discover how to connect to God in their own way.
Now I will throw in one caveat. One of my kids once prayed, “Thank you God that I’m not like the neighbor.” I gently corrected her, since that was pretty much an exact echo of a prayer that Jesus told us not to pray. In Luke 11:18, Jesus taught this as a bad example of how to pray “The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people–robbers, evildoers, adulterers–or even like this tax collector…'” So we had a conversation after about how God doesn’t want us comparing ourselves and judging others in prayer.
5. Pray in a Variety of Ways
Change it up! Variety helps keep kids’ hearts and minds engaged in real conversation. In his book, Prayer: Finding The Heart’s True Home, Richard J Foster describes twenty-one types of prayer. All of these could be summed up as taking a moment to acknowledge His presence and your relationship, whether listening, speaking, or in silence with God.
So, teach your kids to try out praying in different ways. Challenge the status quo. Sometimes pray short and sweet. Other times have a long deep conversation. It’s even good to “have an argument” with God in front of your kids. It models authenticity and shows them that we have a God who handles honesty.
Demonstrate speaking to God with day-to-day casual talk. Ask God for help, guidance, or to have a need met. Say thank you. Ask for forgiveness. And of course, make time to worship and honor God. The important thing is that they learn to connect to God in conversation.
One of my favorite quotes about prayer is from Charles Spurgeon. “True prayer is neither a mere mental exercise nor a vocal performance. It is far deeper than that – it is spiritual transaction with the Creator of Heaven and Earth.”
“True prayer is neither a mere mental exercise nor a vocal performance. It is far deeper than that – it is spiritual transaction with the Creator of Heaven and Earth.”Charles Spurgeon
How To Encourage Children To Pray
The best way to help kids get motivated to pray is to follow in the patterns and words of Jesus. Modeling will be your most powerful lesson on prayer. More is caught than taught, as they say.
When I had my firstborn, it was difficult to set aside time for anything, including prayer. The new responsibilities for a precious, fragile life stirred up a wealth of worries for me. I felt that by being super attentive and busy, I could best protect and care for my child. But the real solution to worry and overwhelm is to pause and connect with my good Father. As a new mom, more than ever I needed “Our Father in heaven.” I wish I had realized sooner – prayer is the best answer to worry.
Just because more is caught than taught, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t explicitly teach your kids to pray. If you aren’t sure where to start or feel uncomfortable or unsure how to teach your kids to pray, don’t worry! Jesus showed us the way. Jesus explicitly told us, “You should pray like this…” in Matthew 6:9.
How Jesus Taught Us To Pray
In Matthew 6, Jesus began his prayer, “Our Father in heaven.” And now our prayers can start in likewise manner, addressing your Father in heaven.
When Jesus taught us to pray, he wasn’t just giving us words to recite, he was teaching us how to relate to God in a new way. In teaching us to pray, Jesus was guiding us in how to connect with God under the new covenant, as a Father. Before this, God was considered far out of reach. The Hebrews didn’t even say God’s name. Only the highest holy men were allowed to enter behind the curtain into the presence of the most holy God. (Holy means set apart or separate).
But Jesus changed this. He brought what was separate together and God, the Father, ripped the temple veil they separated us from Him when Jesus died (Matthew 27:50-51). Jesus opened up access to God for all who put their faith in him (Hebrews 10:20). So we can now boldly approach God with confidence, not as slaves, but as children (Galatians 4:7).
So now, God our Father is near. I think it’s important to have the understanding that the word for heaven here isn’t referring to a far-off place up in the sky, but the kingdom of heaven that Jesus so often talked about as being “near.” We are praying to a Father in an invisible realm very near to us.
Teaching Kids How & Where Should We Pray
Jesus said in Matthew 6:5-6 that we should not pray “as the hypocrites, for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Most certainly, I tell you, they have received their reward. But you, when you pray, enter into your inner room, and having shut your door, pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.”
The main issue here is not the location, it’s the heart. God wants us to pray to Him and for Him. The wrong way is to do it for show or as a mindless habit. As Jesus told the Samaritan woman, there’s no special place we have to go to worship (John 4:21-23).
“Woman, believe me, the hour comes, when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem, will you worship the Father. You worship that which you don’t know. We worship that which we know; for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour comes, and now is, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such to be his worshippers.”
In short, the where is anywhere, and the how is in spirit and truth.
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A Kids Lesson On How To Pray
Below I offer one example of how we could teach our children about prayer. Breaking down the Lord’s Prayer is a great place to start. There’s a lot in there to teach us about how to relate to and talk to God.
This is how I would teach my elementary and older kids. Maybe it could help for you in talking with yours. It’s probably too much to teach in one sitting or the younger ones, so I recommend dividing it up.
Lessons From the Lord’s Prayer
Teaching from Matthew 6:9-13.
Our Father in heaven, Your name be honored as holy.
This teaches us to whom and how. Jesus taught us to pray to God as someone close but also someone very special and perfect. He is the ruler of the universe and we should talk to him as both a dad and super-power.
Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
These words show us that we should pray for things to be done God’s way, which is good and perfect. Part of our job as Christians is to bring God’s heavenly way to the world. Our prayers should be about God’s way above our own ways.
Give us today our daily bread.
Ask for enough. God cares for us as His children. He wants to hear from us every day. God wants us to ask him for things and trust that He will give us what we need.
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
Ask for forgiveness. Loving someone means asking for forgiveness when you’ve done something wrong. When we do wrong it is important to ask God to forgive us. We also need to forgive others with God’s help.
And do not bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.
Ask for help. We live in a world where evil and temptation are all around us. We need God to guide us in the right way and protect us from the devil’s attempts to get us to make bad choices.
Prayer is a tool that empowers us against sin. Jesus also said, “Watch and pray, that you don’t enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41).
Teaching The Holy Spirit to Children
Jesus said we must worship in the Spirit, so teaching kids about prayer means teaching them about the Holy Spirit. “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). Prayer helps us “keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25). So how do we teach our kids about the Holy Spirit?
I like to talk about the Holy Spirit as our local translator or explainer. Paul said in Romans 8:26, “In the same way, the Spirit also helps our weaknesses, for we don’t know how to pray as we ought. But the Spirit himself makes intercession for us with groanings which can’t be uttered.”
A great way to talk about the Holy Spirit’s involvement with prayer is to talk to your kids about knowing their non-verbal cues and how you understand that communication. It can be a similar example to how the Spirit intercedes for us, knowing how to explain our needs when we don’t.
Here’s an example. You could say something along these lines to your child. “When I see you rub your eyes, I know you are getting tired. You don’t have to use words. Another person who doesn’t know you like I do, might not know. But I can tell them, you are tired.”
The Holy Spirit is with you and knows you. He can tell God what you need, even when you don’t say it with words.”
Final Thoughts on Teaching Prayer
Whatever you do, just pray. Don’t worry about being perfect. God is patient! He doesn’t get easily offended. He knows how we are made. The Holy Spirit can translate.
In fact, the Holy Spirit can guide and teach us how to pray. He reminds us of Jesus’ words and helps us understand them. Get into the word so that you know how to pray for God’s will.
And keep teaching your children all along the way. Teaching kids about prayer is an important part of being a godly parent. You don’t have to be perfect, just be honest and do your best with God’s help.
I’d like to leave you with thoughts from my favorite verses about prayer. “The smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, went up before God out of the angel’s hand” Revelation 8:4.
In Revelation 5:8 it says there are golden bowls of incense “which are the prayers of the saints.”
Behind the veil of our temporary reality, our prayers are an appealing offering and a pleasing fragrance around God’s throne.
Prayer is such an important topic that I dedicated a lesson to it in Parenting In Christ: Training In The Disciplines of Jesus. Get your copy of the bible study discussion guide here!
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