Teach your kids to pray

Welcome to our 2020 Summer Refresh! While Val is busy, busy writing away on her new book, we thought this was a great opportunity to update some old faves from the blog and re-share them with you! Enjoy!

Recently I shared a video of Vivi (5 ½) and Vana (almost 3) praying at bedtime and was flooded with questions of how to teach your kids to pray. I feel like I haven’t shared much about this because it wasn’t something I set out to intentionally teach them but just was a natural part of home life. Y’all know my heart for prayer and many know that I grew up with a mom who would pray with me about everything…because I was skeeeerrrd of everything! 🙂

Ironically, even though kids can cut into our quiet times, I have found myself praying more as a mom than I did before and I thought I’d share today how we created a habit of prayer in our home:Teach your kids to pray by Valerie Woerner | Val Marie Paper, motherhood, teaching, training, prayer, sunday school, church, mom, parenthood, resources, faith, Bible, God

1. Start really simple. Before you ask them to pray, ask them what they want YOU to pray for. You are involving them, showing them how to pray without being too intimidating. I started this with Vivi as soon as she could comprehend it. I cannot tell you how many prayers we prayed for her teachers when she was only 1 ½ and for Sicily (my parents’ dog. 😉 We slowly expanded prayers to the Haiti kids, people hurting when we pass an ambulance and homeless people when we give them a granola bar.

2. Don’t push. Can I tell you about Vana’s year of “no”? I’ve been asking Vana if she’d like to pray ever since she could string a few words together and she has said no a lot. When she does, I don’t push. I just say “Ok, I’ll pray.” On occasions I’ll say “Are you sure?” but without a condescending tone and just offering the opportunity. I will say, this doesn’t work the majority of the time, so I don’t use it often. At some point, she started saying yes. She still says no when we pray on the way to school, but yes at dinner time and bedtime and that’s OK! They don’t roll their eyes when it’s time to pray and I think that’s one of the most important things right now.

3. Explain stuff without expecting it to be implemented right away. If we pray and the girls are really giggly or interrupting a lot, we’ll mention afterward about it that we want to be respectful to God when we pray. We may put a hand on them to stop during prayer but we don’t stop the prayer to discuss it, normally because we don’t want to set up the expectation that they must now understand and do it correctly for the remainder of the prayer. I think of it like talking to your spouse about something either in the middle of a fight or calmly when it’s a current problem they need to fix. In a fight, we feel defensive and a little boxed in, but outside of a fight, we feel more receptive to the instruction. Also, this way they don’t tie prayer with something they get in trouble for all the time.

4. Keep pointing back to God. The other day we prayed for a big meeting Tyler had. He called us as soon as it was over and I was putting the girls to sleep and I told Vivi about the news. I made sure to include that that was God at work. I think it’s easy to talk about things without pointing out God’s role in it all but I want my girls to see God in everything. Even the things that look like no’s. I want to be able to articulate (as best I can) that God is working even when things don’t go our way. Back to Tyler’s meeting. After I mentioned to Vivi “Vivi, we prayed for Papa’s meeting! We should thank God for that.” she immediately folded her hands and said, “Thank you God for Papa’s meeting!”

5. Read materials on prayer to your kids. There are books on prayer that can help you communicate prayer in a way kids can understand. Here are a few we love. Also, this has become a recent dream to do one day, write a book on prayer for kids! 😉

6. Grab our Kid’s Prayer Journal. I’ll preface this by saying I think this only makes sense if you are using one too. Kids get excited when they get something like their parents. They like seeing us model a behavior first. Our Kid’s Prayer Journal is for ages 6-12 or a little younger with help. If you have teens, we HIGHLY recommend the Fresh Start Journal. It’s got a month sample of our prompts, along with 31 days of devotions answering some really foundational questions about prayer. It might actually be worth getting and going through for yourself to help you teach your kids if they are younger.

Q&A

I asked on Insta specific questions y’all had. Before I answer some, I wanted to share that having questions about prayer is good!! The fact that we are asking these things shows we care. I can’t answer them all, and honestly, I don’t want to because I want to encourage us to hear the Lord speak into how we teach our kids how to pray.

With that said, here are some questions answered! If you have others, I want you to stop and write it down in your prayer journal (or any notebook) and ask the Lord to speak clearly to you on how to communicate prayer to your kids. We won’t have all the answers but I have felt the Lord speak through me so many times when I just didn’t know how to articulate something. Sometimes, I still just say “I don’t know, honey,” or want to change the subject to something easier but ask the Lord for wisdom!Teach your kids to pray by Valerie Woerner | Val Marie Paper, motherhood, teaching, training, prayer, sunday school, church, mom, parenthood, resources, faith, Bible, God

How do you teach them it’s about a conversation with God and not just sharing a list of requests?

I think this is a lesson that takes time for our kids to learn because it’s hard to comprehend when they are really young. Even us adults struggle with it! I think the biggest thing is including God in more aspects of our day than just asking Him for things. A few examples:

  • Pointing out crazy cloud patterns and how God created the sky
  • Talking to them about worship and how it’s a time we thank Him and praise Him
  • Reminding them God made them.
  • Telling them I’m glad God picked me to be their momma.
  • Talking to them about God’s authority and how discipline is momma’s obedience to God.
  • Talking about how God is fun and joyful and not just someone to revere (like we emphasize in prayer)
  • And another big one? By letting them hear our own prayers that aren’t just filled with requests, that include praise, confession, surrender, thanksgiving and even asking God questions.

Another tip we’ve recently implemented is having some nights where instead of sharing requests, we all thank God for something. We just started this but I think you could also have a night to praise God for a characteristic and even confession teaching them the ACTS method in a non-overwhelming way.

How do you explain how we talk to someone who we can’t see?

My answer to a lot of big questions is sharing with them how big God is and how we won’t understand everything. That sounds like a cop-out, but I want them to know that there are mysteries and it’s BECAUSE God is HOLY and not of this world that we can’t always “make sense of God”. But I also keep it really simple and tell them that God loves us and hears us even though we can’t see Him.

How to respond if they feel like they will mess up and freeze up to pray?

My firstborn is a perfectionist and scared of messing up. Case in point, she had a school program the other day and kept saying “Momma, what if I mess up?” I told her “Honey, you could puke all over that stage and I’m gonna be proud of you.” Gross and kinda weird to say but she needed to know there was nothing she could do that would make us see her differently.

I think our job as parents, when it comes to prayer is to convey that God loves us even greater than that. It starts with explaining salvation and how Jesus died on the cross for our sins. We can’t do anything to earn His love and we sure can’t do anything to take it away either.

You could also emphasize how you “mess up” or don’t have the right words and even let them hear your messy prayers where your words get twisted and they don’t sound perfect or you get distracted.

How do you respond to the silly prayers?

I usually let them slide unless they get irreverent. Vana prays for some pretty random things but this is true of everyday conversation with people too so I know it’s just her age. When her prayers really start to trail off, we usually “encourage her to wrap it up” by saying “Amen!” if we hear her pause. If it’s irreverent we’ll do what I mentioned in point #3.

Ways to address their weaknesses in prayer without it seeming like they are being criticized?

I’m not sure if this question was specifically about us praying for our kid’s weaknesses in front of them or teaching them to pray for their own. Here’s advice for both.

Praying WITH kids – I normally wrap it up in a compliment sandwich. 🙂 I thank God for Vivi’s sweet spirit and kind heart. I highlight the things she’s great at and then I ask God to keep “shaping her heart” or give her a heart for obedience or ask Him to “fill her with your confidence…

Teaching them to pray for their weakness – I think the biggest thing happens outside of prayer and just helping them know they are flawed humans and we ALL mess up and make mistakes and that God’s grace, when we invite Him into our heart, covers it all. And when we accept Him into our heart, God refines us. To do that, we ask God to show us where He wants to grow us.

I think with both, just emphasizing that perfection isn’t the standard or a mark they are missing but our transformation is actually a gift, therefore, inviting God to work in our weaknesses is a beautiful thing and doesn’t have to carry the condemnation that we’d have apart from Jesus.

What questions can I ask them to think about gratitude and who to pray for?

I think simply asking “What is one thing you are grateful for today?” is enough to get things started. I think saying “one thing” is helpful to not make it feel overwhelming to answer.

I’ll also suggest people to pray for if there’s a pattern of just praying for momma, papa, and sister without saying “Hey, let’s pray for others,” by saying, “Is there anyone else you want to pray for?”

How do you explain “pray without ceasing”?

I think it starts with emphasizing what I mentioned in point #2, so they understand that God is always around and hears us all the time. Then I think emphasizing God’s character, that He is not only powerful but cares immensely for us and that no need is too small to bring to Him helps it make sense to keep going to God throughout the day.

Definitely make this a habit in your own life. When they get hurt, pray. When you get frustrated, pray. When there’s a pretty sky, thank God and pray.

How to keep kids undistracted?

This is a TOUGH one! I think first and foremost, we need to have expectations that remember they are kids and that we get distracted too, just usually not in as obvious of ways as the toy laying next to them or a sibling who’s feet are touching theirs (hello to-do list!). You can encourage them to close their eyes and hold their hands which helps start off without having to interrupt prayers to get them to put down a book (been there) or whisper “shh” because they are talking while their sister is praying (was there last night! ; ).

How to help them not just repeat things?

Lately, we’ve been asking different questions or talking about what we will pray for beforehand. We’ll say “Vivi do you want to pray for Gran? Vana, can you pray for Papa’s back?” This also helps get them out of their own little world of just praying for their dance recital or for them to have a good day (which the Woerner girls are big fans of!).

How to teach them how to use their own words?

Asking questions helps with this but also teaching them about the parts of prayer and the way it’s a conversation with God. It might be as simple as “What do you want to tell God about your day?  What do you want to thank Him for?” It’s easier for kids to answer a question with an unrehearsed answer or just repeated prayer because a question gives them a starting point.

Also, educating them on prayer OUTSIDE of prayer time helps them have a bigger understanding of the conversation. Otherwise, if prayer only comes up at bedtime and theirs no training, it’s easy to just repeat what. you heard before.

Can they pray if they haven’t believed?
Such a good question and one I’m a bit intimidated to answer! I’ll share my thoughts and an article as well.

Our prayers teach our kids about God and give them opportunities to know more about Him and hopefully put their faith in God one day. I can’t imagine being able to teach my girls about God without prayer being a part of that and then when they did accept Jesus, trying to teach it. They learn so much seeing us walk out our faith. I think them learning the language of prayer can happen before they believe and can be an avenue to believing. I have talked to Vivi about the importance of inviting God into our hearts and how that makes way for a real relationship with him through prayer. Until she does that with a true understanding, we will keep on learning the habit of prayer and I’ll continue praying she accepts Jesus into her heart!

John Piper shared his thoughts here.

How to encourage busy teenagers?
Fresh Start journal! 😉 We also wrote a blog post on how to use our journals with teens, here.

Teaching our kids to pray is a journey! I know that sounds cliche but God is so patient with us as we learn to pray. I think we have a sweet opportunity to show patience for our kids too as they learn too. Our 6 year old will not have the eloquent words of an 80-year-old who’s been praying for decades. They will repeat things over and over. They will pray for silly things. They will be focused on themselves. I think the biggest thing we can teach our kids while they are young is to know that God listens and desires this relationship with us and that we desperately need Him and aren’t just doing God a favor.

So much about teaching our kids to pray is about modeling it in our own lives. We created our prayer course to help YOU pray confidently and consistently, which will naturally lead to teaching your kids to do the same. Check out the course here!!

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