Praying with your child is a vital part of their faith journey. Whether you are a parent, godparent, aunt, uncle or sibling, introducing your child to a life of prayer is arguably the biggest gift you can give them, because you are teaching them how to communicate with their creator.
It’s a big responsibility, but don’t let that put you off.
Here are some commonsense tips to get you started.
As humans, we will always skip things when they get boring and the same goes for prayer. That’s why it’s really important to build your child’s prayer time into a regular slot in their day. Often just before bedtime is a good time, every night.
Here is a simple suggestion: ask your child to pray three things: something they’re thankful for, something they’re sorry for, and something they would like Jesus to bless. Then end with an Our Father, a Hail Mary and a Glory Be.
As they grow up having a routine will become normal and will be something to fall back on if they are struggling with their faith
Use a colorful, attractive children’s Bible with pictures and choose a short story a day and read it together. Ask your child questions about the story, appropriate to their age. How did the people in the story feel at the time? Most importantly, ask them what it means to us, how should we behave?
While it’s important that children understand what is right and wrong and to own up when they have been naughty, remember that our faith is more than just a list of what to do and what not to do. It is a relationship with Christ. When praying with your child, you are helping them to have a friendship with Jesus. Good friendships are life giving – a place where you can trust, relax, become yourself and be happy. You are helping your child understand who Jesus is and how He loves us unconditionally.
Routine is important, but remember to help your child understand that we can pray everywhere, any time, in a natural way. Say a simple Grace before meals. It shows your children that prayer is partly to do with habit and it is also a signal that the mealtime is more than just about satisfying hunger.
Don’t be afraid to pray Grace in public, at a picnic or in a restaurant, for example. It may feel awkward, but it does show that our faith isn’t just for us, privately at home.
There is nothing more powerful than your child seeing you pray or turning to prayer in a moment of need. Our actions speak so much more powerfully than our words.
Here is another simple suggestion: Say a simple prayer whenever your child gets hurt. “Jesus, help [name] to feel better. Send your angels to bring them peace.”
This teaches your child to turn to Jesus when they are hurt – and I’m reliably informed – stops crying almost immediately!
When your child is old enough and makes their First Confession, don’t let it be a one off. Take them to regular confession (once a month is great) and go yourself while you are there. Afterwards, take them for cake or ice cream – because God’s mercy is sweet and it should be celebrated!
The Rosary is the simplest yet most powerful prayer and it is perfect for children. It will teach them about Mary and allow them to walk through Jesus’ life together. Let them feel involved by making their own rosary bracelet out of ten beads and an extra one for the Our Father. Or buy them their own rosary as a special birthday or First Holy Communion gift, as a significant milestone in their life.
They may be your child or under your care, but their soul is still a sacred space, separate to you and their prayer is between them and God. You shouldn’t force entry to that sacred space. Allow your child the privacy to take things slowly. Don’t feel frustrated if they don’t seem ‘holy’ enough. Be sensitive to their emotions and don’t compare yourself to a perfect ideal of a family prayer life. Remember Jesus and with His disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane – He asked them to pray with Him and they all fell asleep!
We can all struggle with this, so help your child understand why it’s important to pray for their enemies or those who hurt them. Pray for the children at school who bully others, pray with your child for those other children who hurt them. This is also a powerful witness to the fact that there is no problem that God cannot solve or bring healing to – especially when being bullied can often be such a hopeless situation.
This one is nice and simple. Sing with your child! Don’t worry if you don’t think you can sing, God doesn’t care if you are out of tune! Children love music and there are plenty of options. You could sing praise and worship songs together in the car or sing prayers as lullabies. Remember, traditional hymns hold great truths of our faith and are a wonderful way to introduce them to your child. Singing helps your child to remember prayers more easily, and will be something that they can turn to all of their life for comfort and a reminder of God’s support and power.
Make a celebration of the Church’s feast days in whatever way you are able. Even if it is just something small, marking out the day as special will help integrate the faith in your child’s life.
As a starting point, you could have a wreath with candles and a special prayer time at the dinner table for Advent, use a program of simple daily readings for Lent and continue to celebrate ALL seven weeks of Easter up to and including Pentecost!
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