Making an effort to pray daily is an important part of faith formation for children. They follow our example, whether it is morning prayers or mealtime prayers. When we teach our children to pray while still children, it may instill a lifelong healthy habit. Beginning around age two, toddlers can imitate their parents and older siblings during prayer time. The simple gesture of folding their hands is a sweet start to a fruitful prayer life. Prayer at home is a comforting experience, but how can we teach our children to pray anywhere, at any time?
Do Not Fear
Unfortunately in our society, prayer is mostly done privately at home. Many people are embarrassed or even ashamed to pray in public (restaurants, for example). We set the tone for our children where ever we may go with them. By being shameful of public prayer, we teach our children that pride comes before humility. This is certainly not the image of God. We are called to praise Him all the time, everywhere. Why do we feel ashamed? Is someone really going to laugh at us? Who should feel ashamed of themselves in that scenario? God calls us to live extraordinarily. This calls for bravery, determination and faith. These character qualities not only help children persevere in their prayer lives, but also in their daily lives. Make an effort to put God first in all you do, especially in front of children.
Ways to Begin
If you have not prayed publicly with children before, it may seem awkward. They may be embarrassed and fight you. I suggest not forcing it on them, but let it be understood that this is going to become a habit in which your family will be participating. Older children may be especially hard to convince. Just keep setting that example and let your expectations be known. Reinforce how important prayer is in general. We have an obligation to thank God for our meals at each sitting, no matter where we may be. After some time, most children will begin to understand the importance. If they are too embarrassed to verbally participate, simply let them sit quietly and listen. Each day, set a new expectation for the child to accomplish. For example, folding their hands, closing their eyes or whispering the prayer to themselves are all acceptable ways to begin.
Trial and Error
We all make mistakes. There have been many times when I have simply forgotten to pray before I eat. Thankfully, God knows when we are genuine and when we are not. I simply ask for his forgiveness, and do my best to begin again. We must also have this attitude with our children. They will forget and need to be reminded. We should be gentle in this endeavor, because we want this to be a pleasant experience for them. They will be aware of others watching, especially their peers. It is important for them to show their friends that this is a part of who they are and they are not ashamed. This is a great way for our children to begin evangelizing others!
If we are having a bad day, pray about it as a family. This is a great way to communicate with one another as well as give it over to God. Surrendering to God and His will can be difficult. If we show our children that we are not afraid to trust God in all things, they will be comfortable trusting Him themselves. Be open and express your concern, worries, sadness and fears to Him. Trust in Him openly in your words and actions so that you can show your children how wonderful it is to rest in His word.
If you do not already pray with your children, begin slowly. You do not want to force them into praying, lest it become an unpleasant chore. Begin with the mealtime prayer, and say it at each meal until it becomes habit. Younger children may be more open to this practice, but teenagers may not be as enthusiastic. Do not try to push them too hard to participate right away. Simply being quiet during this time is a way to show respect for the moment. Keep showing them that this is a new habit that will be taking place several times a day. By observing parents during prayer time, the child will realize that this is not a passing fad that Mom and Dad will forget about eventually.
Finally, pray for one another. Ask God to open the hearts of your children. We are not perfect parents. That is not what children need. They need imperfect parents, to allow them to be imperfect. This is the only way to Christ, by surrendering all to Him. We all need help in this area, for pride creeps into all of our hearts every day. Do not be afraid to ask God for help in front of your children. This will give them the confidence to do the same.
Jesus said to His disciples: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door shall be opened for you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. (Matt 7:7-8)