Thursday, March 1, 2012

Teaching Children to Pray

By Julie Sanders

As I peeled our toddler from my body and thrust her into the nursery, I straightened my hair, breathed deeply, and wondered if separation anxiety would last into college. Fears showed up at the worst times, and I was at a loss for how to help her trust God in times apart.

I remembered calling out to God when strong waves pulled my childhood body away from my mother on the beach. My newly believing mom taught me quickly how to pray. How do children learn to talk to God on their own and trust Him in life’s current? How do we move from bedtime prayers to personal prayers?

Giving kids a head start in talking to God is a mother’s goal, so our little ones learn to turn to their Heavenly Father on their own. A mom with a heart for personal prayer can pass it on to her children.

Since we know children need to live healthy lives, we teach them to eat and exercise. Since we know they need to care for themselves, we teach them to tie their shoes. Since we know life brings waves of challenges, we need to teach them how to call out to God. We can show children prayer is personal, spontaneous, and effective. We can teach them to pray on their own.

All children experience fears, including darkness, strangers, or separation. These opportunities show children prayer is a personal way to answer fear. Children learn that, “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you” (Psalm 56:3 ESV).

Making it personal:

Take sequential pictures of your child with a frightened face, a thoughtful expression, a bowed head, and a smiling face. Use pictures to make a wordless book together, training your child to pray when they experience fear. Show them that trusting God brings comfort.

Instead of reserving prayer for special buildings, help children learn prayer is for any time or place. Prayer can be spontaneous. Life with little ones provides endless opportunities to stop and “Pray now:” a hurt friend at play group, a decision at a toy store, a passing ambulance, a lost kitten. Model spontaneous prayer, then guide your child to stop and “Pray now.” At the very moment of need, show them you can talk to God and ask for His help. Your example trains them to be comfortable with immediate prayer and helps them get in the habit of turning to Him for themselves.

Making it spontaneous:

Find a park bench to sit down, pull into a parking lot, or pause in a grocery aisle to pray when prompted. Show your child God is always ready to hear you. After your child is comfortable with impromptu prayer, ask them to pray. Hold their hand as physical reinforcement.

Show your child prayer is effective by pointing out and giving credit to God for answers. Don’t let opportunities pass when He meets a need, gives wisdom, or provides comfort. Rejoice specifically about God hearing and answering. Your praise reinforces your child’s confidence in prayer’s effectiveness, confidence that helps her learn to turn to God all on her own.

Showing it’s effective:

Draw a picture together of answers you experience together. Call Daddy or a relative to share the praise. Stop and give thanks to God for hearing and answering. Get a “recipe style” book, so you can draw pictures on 3x5 cards and slip them in as your little one sees answers. You will have a praise book personal to your family.

Before I started elementary school, my newly believing mother taught me to pray. Months later I was caught in an Atlantic rip current. My fearful mother watched from shore, as rescuers risked their lives for mine, but I was not alone. I was calling out to God with my own voice and from my own heart, because I knew He would hear the prayers of little ones like me. Many waves will wash over our children as they grow, but we can give them the gift of knowing prayer is personal, spontaneous, and effective.

It’s been a long time since I left my writhing girl in ruffled socks in the nursery, and I’ve had many chances to help her make prayer her own since then. Next challenge? Leaving for college. I’m so glad she’s learned to turn to God on her own. We can equip our kids for whatever they’ll face when we pass on personal prayer.

Julie Sanders is a Women’s Ministry leader who loves to share God’s word with women in her hometown and around the world in a way that shows truth applies to life. She keeps busy and prayerful with her husband and two teenagers and looks forward to camping in the spring. Julie is a graduate of She Speaks and blogs daily at Come Have a Peace.