Most Christian families begin teaching their kids about prayer by using rote mealtime and bedtime prayers. While that often works well for very young children, as your children get a little older, they may be given opportunities to pray with others.
Visiting grandparents may ask your young child to pray in front of the entire extended family for a meal. Or perhaps your child has been asked to lead a prayer in a class. As your kids enter the teen years, they may have a friend ask them to pray with them during some sort of struggle they are having. Any of these situations can cause a young person to panic and refuse the chance to lead some sort of prayer.
Understanding your kids personalities and gifts will help you better prepare them for when these unexpected opportunities arise. A prepared child is much more likely to pray for others than one who has never even thought about what they might pray in various situations.
These top tips will help you prepare your kids to pray in any circumstance.
- Praying in front of others may be more difficult for introverted or shy children and teens. Don’t worry too much if your introverted children are uncomfortable and don’t want to participate. Allow them to pass for the moment, but continue to provide opportunities. Some kids will grow out of their reluctance as they become more comfortable with what to say. Others will need some additional encouragement to try again the next time they are offered a chance to pray. I would caution against applying too much pressure, though. You don’t want your child to learn to dread any type of praying.
- Talk with older children about the types of prayers they may be asked to pray. Sometimes just being aware that they might be asked to say a prayer for a meal or in a small group Bible study, can take away a lot of anxiety. In your discussions, talk about the types of things people often say in each situation.
- Make sure your kids understand prayers don’t have to be “fancy” or long. I have found many children are uncomfortable praying in front of others because they have only been exposed to people at Church who lead long, flowery prayers. Show them Matthew 6:7 to reassure them God is just fine with short, conversational prayers.
- If your child is given enough notice, consider practicing at home and/or letting them jot down a few notes to lessen their fear of freezing and having nothing to say. Yes, in general prayers are probably better from the heart in the moment, but sometimes kids need a little extra confidence when praying in front of others. Once they become more comfortable, most will leave the aids behind.
- Prepare teens to pray one on one with friends going through stressful situations. If your kids become the type of teen who becomes involved in ministering to peers in some way, there is a great chance someone will ask them to pray with them in private about their physical, emotional and/or spiritual needs. You can admit to your teen you still struggle with these types of prayers, if you do. Talk about appropriate things to say and things that probably should not be said. Do a little role playing if your child is introverted. With extroverted children, you may have to caution them from the other end of the spectrum – not making the prayer too flowery or loud thereby overwhelming or embarrassing the person who is struggling.
Individual prayer is vital, but social prayer is also an important part of living a Christian life. It is often a way to comfort others and serve them by helping them pray when words escape them. Approaching it as a skill to teach your children will help them be better prepared to serve those they meet who need or want their help praying. It’s worth taking some time to discuss and practice.