The other day, I watched my 3-year-old daughter imitate my husband in prayer. While worshipping, my husband kneeled beside the bed, raised his hands, eyes closed, and swayed as he sang in worship. Our daughter did likewise, eyes fixed on her dad, imitating his every move. She raised her voice when he did, moved around, and muttered in tongues after him. It was a beautiful experience. She worships like we do and won’t go to bed until we’ve prayed together.
In my 11+ years as children and teen’s church teacher, I’ve realized that children are not enthusiastic about prayer. They easily get bored and distracted. The same goes for when they pray at home. They throw tantrums and disturb their parents so much that most parents exclude them from family prayers. How do you get your 4-9 year old interested in prayers?
It is best to start early when children are very young. Habits learned at an early age are difficult to do without as they grow up. Children learn by imitation. They will do what they see parents, teachers, and those in their circle of influence do. They may not be able to speak clearly but will be able to demonstrate what they see older ones do.
In case your children are already grown, don’t stress it, you can still teach them to pray. At this stage, you don’t need to be overly forceful. It will interest them more if you live the life you preach.
- Continually pray for them. Commit their hearts to God and ask the Holy Spirit to abide in them, guide and teach them. When you do this consistently, you will notice a difference in your child’s attitude towards prayer.
- Make it participatory. When family prayer is led exclusively by adults, the children get bored and feel left out. The essence of making prayer hour participatory is to give the child a sense of ownership. You may segment prayer time and have them take turns leading every section. Come up with a unique recitation or theme for the family which everyone recites after saying the grace at the close of prayer hour. Examples include: repeating I shall not die but live, we are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, and so on. Children look forward to such times when they recite the theme and share hi-fives. It’s a good way to keep them alert till the end.
- Let the children decide on prayer time. This worked for us. We asked our children when they thought we could pray every morning and night. They had a brainstorming session, taking dinner time and everyone’s schedule into consideration and came up with a time, which worked perfectly. When it’s time for prayers, they don’t feel forced to participate.
- Introduce activities. Children love activities because it makes prayer hour less boring and more participatory. Activities such as singing special numbers, reading a Bible verse out loud on their feet, and sharing their daily wins (testimonies) no matter how trivial.
- Home Work/Memory Verse. Make the children memorize Bible portions which they recite during prayer hour. Depending on the number of family members, each person recites his homework on a particular day. It should be an activity for the whole family, including parents.
- Create categories and award badges. Give them badges for punctuality, attentiveness, questions answered, delivery of homework, and so forth. Children are naturally competitive and always want to be winners. This will encourage them to attend prayer meetings and be attentive.
- Let the children take turns leading prayers. Allow them to take turns coordinating prayer hours. Anyone who is leading will want to do an excellent job while at it. They feel involved and also learn by trying. Don’t think they are too young, you’ll be pleasantly surprised!
- As much as you can, don’t overstretch family prayer time. Keep it short, a maximum of one hour. Children have very short attention spans, they get bored easily. I remember sleeping off or crying and throwing tantrums during prayer time as a child because it was just too long. I hated family prayer time and determined not to put my children through that agony. But with practicing most of these skills especially keeping it short, my children are eager to pray and are used to it.
- Use visuals where possible. Write out prayer points on colored cards. Use the screen sometimes for Bible study. Using visuals spices things up.
- Pray along with them. Don’t assume the role of God or overseer, come down to their level of understanding and pray along with them. Be involved in whatever activities you assign them.