Is it natural to pray? Do kids learn to pray on their own? In some ways, at times of great joy or deep sorrow, calling out to a God who is greater than me is a natural and instinctive thing to do. But weaving prayer into our everyday lives is a learned habit. We need vocabulary and practices for prayer to become our routine. We do our children a great favor when we model and normalize talking to God and having spiritual conversations in everyday life.
Here are some everyday moments that can be good opportunities to go to God with our kids.
Start your day out right by prayer together in the morning. Maybe it’s after prepping for the day and just before you all go separate ways. Before you leave for school and work, hold hands as a family and pray a blessing over your kids. It puts the whole day in holy perspective, and teaches kids the activities of life are ultimately a spiritual exercise. It reminds kids that you and God are with them as they go through their day. You can pray over your kids, or have the kids take turns praying for the day. Teaching kids from a young age to pray out loud and with others is a powerful skill. Practice will normalize group prayer for them.
Of course, meals are another key moment. Even Jesus paused to pray before meals. Eating together is a highly social event. Receiving life-giving nourishment is a sign of God's provision. Taking a beat to say grace before you eat reminds everyone that these blessings are a gift of God and establishes meal times as special time for family socialization. It’s a good idea to put away all electronics and focus on the people in the room at the moment too. After meals are also great times to read scripture and talk about what God’s word has to say to you.
Sometimes big things happen. It could be a happy accomplishment, or a broken-hearted grief. But those are great moments to go to God with whatever you are feeling. You can give thanks and praise for the good, and you can bring anger, heartache, and grief to your Heavenly Father. He cares about whatever you are feeling, and you can bring it all. Whenever there’s a lot to handle, you can bring it to God. He can take it.
Parents and children have lots of conflict; that’s the nature of guiding kids down the bumpy path to adulthood. Prayer can be a surprising and powerful tool, reminding you both that your parenting is done in God’s presence. After you have an argument with a child and you’ve reached some resolution, you can together enter God’s presence in prayer, asking for his forgiveness and thanking him for his faithfulness. It reminds the wayward child that there is nothing they can do to lose God’s love, and reminds the parent that ultimately we are stewards of God’s authority. Our children belong to him, and he’s the parent of us all.
A classic everyday moment is bedtime. When the day is over, looking back on today and looking forward to tomorrow are natural topics to consider, and a great time to take that big picture thinking to God. You might teach your kids a simple bedtime prayer to recite, like “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep, guide and guard me through the night, and wake me with the morning light.” Or you might simply have a conversation with God, thanking him for the gifts of today, and asking for his provision tomorrow. Let kids use their everyday language to share their hearts with God.
It’s a fine idea to have kids memorize some prayers. Sometimes, in stressful times, being able to recite a familiar prayer is all you can do and brings great comfort. It also helps kids participate in the life of the church, so that when they hear others recite together, they can join in with confidence. There are traditional bedtime prayers and mealtime prayers, but also scriptural prayers like the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-11, Luke 11:2-4) and Psalm 23 (“The Lord is my Shepherd''). Saying these together as a family on occasion is a handy practice.
Giving kids the words and practices of prayer is a huge gift. It not only normalizes the spiritual dimension of life as part of our everyday comings and goings, it also equips them to be spiritual leaders to their peers. Imagine the day when you see your kids take the hands of their friends and pray over their meal or adventure that’s about to begin. Our children are on a path to become independent from us, but our desire is that they develop an interdependence on God. Prayer is a foundational ingredient for helping our children cultivate a life of faith. Give your family the gift of a connection to God through prayer!
Rev. Deb Koster
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra