I'll never forget the first time my daughter sat down at a piano. She was one and a half. For a split second, I thought to myself, “What if she's a prodigy? What if she begins playing a melody she already knows?” After much banging and clanging, I realized it might take a little more—okay, a lot more—practice for her to one day master the keys.
Practice. It's something we do on a daily basis as we raise our children. We help them practice rolling, crawling, walking, and running. We practice manners, from using a fork correctly to saying “please” and “thank you.” We practice reciting the alphabet, counting, sharing, and even using good hygiene. When it comes to spiritual growth, practice is important, too.
I'm a firm believer that as we practice spiritual disciplines with our children, they will grow to be more like Christ. The day my daughter told me she was afraid to pray, I was honestly dumbfounded. Why wouldn't she want to pray to the King of the Universe, the Creator of the World, the One True God? Well, maybe that was just it—she didn’t yet realize God was not only approachable but longed for her conversation.
Every child is different. Some enjoy praying aloud for anything and everything under the sun. Others are more timid, not fully grasping what it means to talk to Someone they cannot see. How can you, as a parent, help your child learn the life-changing discipline of living a prayer-filled life? Here are a few things to keep in mind:
Be intentional. Make it a point to pray with your child every day. Even if he isn’t ready to pray aloud, make sure you are praying together. Remind your child God hears prayers that are both spoken and unspoken. If your child prefers to sing, a prayer sung to God is just as effective as vocalized words.
Pray honest prayers. Allow your child the freedom to pray for what she wants, but always try to bring the more “far-fetched” thoughts and requests back to something more concrete. For example, if your child wants to pray for a favorite stuffed animal, consider praying for the person who gave your child the toy or thank God for a home where she can play with that toy.
Ask, don’t pressure. Brushing teeth and taking baths are habits that are necessary and non-negotiable. As a parent, you have the responsibility to make your child do them. When it comes to prayer, however, demanding a child to pray can create an aversion to it rather than developing a habit of it. If your child does not want to pray aloud just yet, remind him of God’s desire for His people to pray to Him. Continue to pray with your child, regardless of his willingness to pray aloud.
Offer prayer prompts. While voicing a long prayer may seem daunting to a child, ask her to simply pray a one line prayer after you pray. It could be as simple as thanking God for something or praying for a friend. If your child is extremely shy or uneasy, allow her to simply fill in a one word answer after you say the first part of a prayer prompt. Let her know how proud you are of her after the prayer.
Spiritual disciplines such as prayer take practice—this is true for people of all ages. As you pray for your children, ask God to grow in them a desire to pray openly and honestly. Ask God to help them develop a habit of prayer they can carry with them throughout their lives. Pray you would be a diligent example to your children in the spiritual discipline of prayer. Let a life of prayer be a beautiful thing you pass on to them.