Parental Involvement in Teaching Kids to Pray
*It’s noted that from this point forward all references to parent also includes references to guardians, grandparents or anyone who has daily or routine time with a child.
According to statistics 96% of parents believe they are the primary, spiritual nurturer of their children, but only an average of 3% actively foster spiritual development in their home. The rest leave it up to the church. This means that churches who teach children an average of one hour a week have the spiritual responsibility of a parent who has the children seven days a week. This method just doesn’t work well.
Children have more than just a brain or body. They have a soul that needs nurtured twenty-fours hours a day, seven days a week. Yes, they must be taught what is right and wrong and what to do to please God. They must be taught the Word of God. They must be taught to pray. But they must also be eyewitnesses to their parents’ own spiritual transformation. What they see lived out before them teaches them much more than mere words that are spoken.
Scripture tells us it’s the parent’s responsibility to teach their children the ways of God.
These are the commands, decrees and laws the LORD your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, 6:2) so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the LORD your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life. 6:3) Hear, O Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the LORD, the God of your fathers, promised you. 6:4) Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 6:5) Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6:6) These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. 6:7) Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 6:8) Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 6:9) Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. (Deut 6:1-9)
And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord. (Eph 6:4)
Here the Lord is giving commands, not suggestions. He details the benefits of obeying these commands and expresses the urgency of teaching them to their children. We cannot expect children to learn on their own or train themselves. This was an explicit directive.
The parent who carries out these verses will most often be a parent who sees that faith passed down to the next generation. It’s not just a matter of obeying the law, but nurturing faith in such a way that it gets passed along by the examples we show and the faith we share through our teaching, training, and testimonies.
In addition, it shows that the best way of passing this faith along is in the everyday lives we live. When a parent is focused on God and demonstrates their faith, it automatically shows up in the everyday lives their children see.
So parents are required to train children to pray – not “practice” praying, but pray. How can they do this?
Parents must take responsibility
Parents must not default to the church as the primary, spiritual provider in their home. Neither should a father default to the mother in providing spiritual direction (Eph 6:4.) When possible, both parents must assume responsibility for having prayer, worship, and devotion in the home.
Children should see their parents praying
Children learn by example. The phrase, “do as I say not as I do” rarely works to the positive. Often children end up learning the very behaviors they were being told not to learn. Prayers at home should be more than just words repeated at meals. Prayer should be visibly modeled in good and bad experiences, times of decision, heartaches, celebrations, uncertainties – all throughout life.
Pray over problems together
Children shouldn’t be burdened with adult problems, but they are not too young to pray over issues that affect the family. After all, they are a part of that family. When you have a problem that is appropriate to discuss, share that problem with your child in a way they can understand and pray together about it. This will teach them to take ownership in their family as well as look to God for help. In training them to pray in this manner, they will have a greater tendency to pass along the practice to their own children.
Parents should pray with and over their children
Children need to feel loved. When a parent prays, not just over but with their child, it makes them feel they are extra special – special enough for their parents to take time out of their schedule to talk to a very big God about them. As they grow and face problems, they may ask you to pray with them about it. If possible, do it right then, don’t put it off until later. Let them see that their problems are important right then. This builds relationship between both the child and parent as well as between the child and God.
Prayers with your children may be before school, before bed, routinely in the home during times of devotion, and any time. You can pray for them during your own personal prayer time, but they should also have time with you praying together.
Pray for guidance, for help in their schoolwork, for protection, for them to be a witness at school, for God to strength them spiritually, and so on. Pray for them as you would want someone to pray for you. Pray the armor of God on each day together. The armor covers them from danger when you can’t be around.
Pray about more than needs or wants
Prayer is not just a list of wants but a relationship. When praying with or around a child be sure that your prayers include relationship building – talking to God just like you talk to a friend. Let them hear you talking to God about random things. Talk about God’s goodness, the beautiful nature around you, an idea you have, a personal struggle, or just a happy thought. Let children see that God is a friend and interested in all parts of our lives.
Have times of prayer and devotion at home
Parents should actively have times of prayer and devotion with their children. When parents and children read the bible and pray together it teaches them the importance and priority of God. It gives them time to share their problems and discuss how they think God wants them to respond. Devotion and bible teaching must extend beyond the church walls into the home. We are spiritual beings all the time, not just at church.
Encourage children to explore for answers
Parents don’t know it all, and that’s ok. We weren’t created to have all the answers; only God has that understanding. Some parents disallow their children to express their questions or fears because they may have similar doubts. The problem with hiding our questions is that it becomes an area for those questions to turn into doubts, often pushing them away from God, rather than to Him.
For a child to feel worth and safety, parents need to create an environment where that child can express their thoughts and feelings openly. Don’t be afraid of questions. We serve a God that’s strong enough to hear all our fears and uncertainties. Together, and even individually, you can seek God for answers, which fosters growth.
Is it always easy? No. Will you always know what to do? No. But doing nothing reaps nothing. And when we don’t know what to do, we ask for help, and we pray for God’s guidance. When parents take ownership of their child’s spiritual development and children become eyewitnesses of their faith in action, that child will excel faster and easier in spiritual matters than those who leave it up to the church. Let’s be intentional about training our kids not just to succeed in scholastic education, but in their spiritual education.
WNOP Kids & Youth Prayer Coordinator
If your church would like WNOP to provide prayer training in your area with regard to church prayer ministry or the family, kids, or youth, contact us and we’d be happy to assist.