Prayer is just one of those things we are supposed to know how to do. However, this is hardly the case for everyone. Sure, most of us probably have the main parts down: put your hands together, close your eyes and ask God for something. Yet, if you are wondering if there is more to it, you are right…
My parents encouraged me to pray from an early age. I think my childhood consisted of three main prayers:
- Prayers before eating
- Prayers at bedtime
- Prayers for a snow day, Legos, a fire engine and other essentials.
Today, I see kids start formulating simple prayers around 2 or 3 years old. Their prayers are obviously not complex but even simple prayers like, “Dear Jesus, thank you for this food” are learned. When the kids were just days old, we tried to pray simple prayers at bedtime and before meals. I think this gets the kids in that habit, even before they know what is happening. Here are three great ways/times to pray with your kids:
Pray before meals
This one is pretty simple, but we do it with a slight twist. In our house, prayer responsibilities rotate by day (e.g. Owen prays every Friday). That person is also responsible for clearing and cleaning the dishes that day. The rule is simple. When it is your day, you pick the prayer. The choices come down to three:
- A prayer we have memorized as a family (see examples here).
- A prayer they read from a book or prayer sheet (see link above)
- A “special prayer” which just means they say a prayer from their own heart.
Pray at bedtime
This is much like meals, but at bedtime each child has their own prayer that they memorized. There are a couple examples below. No, they don’t say it every night, but I think there is a sense of comfort in having a routine. Even today, when I feel overwhelmed, I often say my prayer from simpler days when I was a child. Here are some example bedtime prayers:
Be near me, Lord Jesus; I ask you to stay
Close by me forever and love me, I pray
Bless all the dear children in your tender care,
And take us to heaven to live with you there.
(Away in a Manger, verse 3)
Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
May angels watch me through the night
and wake me with the morning light
(traditional children’s prayer from the 18th century)
Prayer of Confession
I am guessing that your kids don’t need much help learning to ask God for things that they want, so I will just skip to one many families overlook: prayers of confession. I aim to do this on Sunday evenings. This is not because my kids are so great that they only need to confess sins once a week! The routine is pretty simple. On Sunday evenings I talk to each of my kids before they go to bed (away from the other kids). Sometimes this is just in the hallway while the others are brushing their teeth. I ask three things:
- Are there any sins that you want to confess? If they can’t think of any, I ask something like, “Did you always listen in school this week?” or “Were you always kind to your sister/brother this week?”
- Are you sorry for these sins?
- Why should God forgive these sins? (Jesus died on the cross for all my sins and rose again on Easter).
Finally, I say, (and you can too) “I forgive you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” I make the sign of the cross, give them a hug and kiss, tell them I love them. That is it.
One final thought:
Yes, I know confessional prayers may sound just a bit over the top. And yes, it does become more difficult as the kids have grown older. However, I am consistently surprised how often there is something that is burdening their young consciences. I am also encouraged by the sense of relief they have to hear out loud that their sins are forgiven because of Jesus. Do my kids think I am little weird? Probably. Do they know that Jesus’ has paid for all their sins? Certainly.
Discussion: What prayers did you grow up with?