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7 Lessons From Teaching My Children To Pray

Pope Francis tweeted the following earlier this week: "Dear parents, teach your children to pray. Pray with them." My husband and I are parents to an 11 year old son and a 9 year old daughter and over the years we have learned many lessons in trying to teach our children to pray. We are by no means experts at this and we certainly do not have it all together, but the lessons that we have learned, we gladly share.

Kids thrive on routine. 
For our family, one of the best things we ever did when it came to bringing our children to Mass was to set up a routine when they were just babies. Sunday mornings meant pancakes, baths, 12 Noon Mass and a trip to Dunkin Donuts. We have stuck to that routine almost without exception for more than 10 years. The routine helps them know what to except and gives little wiggle room for objections (which is not to say that those don't happen from time to time). Our persistence in struggling through years at Mass with crying babies, hungry toddlers and fidgety pre-schoolers is finally beginning to pay off - we now leave Mass and have family discussions about the readings and Father's homily. Alleluia! (sorry, I know it's Lent - couldn't help myself). 

Everybody loves a special occasion. 
The life of the church is filled with special occasions and we have brought our children to them all from the solemn celebrations of Holy Week, to the Easter Vigil, to Corpus Christi Processions, to Ordinations, to Eucharistic Adoration and Benediction and more. At all these special events, I find myself so grateful for our Catholic faith which engages all five senses in worship. Worship which engages all our senses is worship that children can and should participate in. My children are riveted by the smells and the bells and the chant that goes on during Benediction. Their jaws were on the floor as they watched the candidates for ordination prostrate themselves in prayer. They love being able to lead the Corpus Christi procession with other children, dropping rose petals as they go to make a footpath for the Lord. Do they fully understand the nuances of everything that is happening? Certainly not, but as the years pass and we continue to bring them, they are growing in their understanding.

Take them to church during off-hours.
My children praying
before the tabernacle.

Going to church off-hours is a great way to introduce children to the richness of a Catholic Church while allowing them the freedom to explore and ask questions without disturbing anyone. My children and I have spent many afternoons walking through our parish church - looking at the Stations of the Cross, talking about the saints depicted in the statues, sitting in the confessional discussing the details of the sacrament and role playing in preparation for their first confessions, and praying before the tabernacle. As Catholics, our churches have a wealth of visual appeal which children (and adults alike) find fascinating. Giving them the time to soak it all in is a great way to enhance their ability to connect with their faith in a tangible way.

"Singing is praying twice."
St. Augustine's famous quote seems especially true of children, who love to sing joyfully to the Lord. Christian music provides one of the greatest catechetical tools out there for teaching our children how to pray. Car rides, rainy days, play dates and more all present great opportunities to pop on a fun, catchy CD on and let our children sing and dance to the music. By far my children's absolute favorite CD's are the CatChat series entitled Amazing Angels and Super Saints available through Lighthouse Catholic Media. (forgive me for the shameless plug!)

Read Bible stories and the lives of the saints out loud.
Children love to be read aloud to. Reading aloud provides great family bonding time and allows the children to use their imagination to visualize the stories they are hearing. I have been reading Bible stories and the lives of the saints out loud to my children from the time they were infants all the way up to the present day, where we begin each school day with me reading a Bible passage or saint book out loud while they snuggle up next to me on the couch. I am always pleasantly surprised by how much the children retain from these read-aloud sessions and how, over time, their questions and the subsequent discussions we have had about our reading has grown and matured. Of course, an added bonus is the amount I have learned through our readings!

Over the years, I have greatly benefited from all the leg-work that Jessica over at Shower of Roses has done to create extensive book lists of saint books for children of all ages. Head over there for some great book suggestions to celebrate the Church's feasts and the feast days of the saints.

Encourage a dialogue with the Lord.
As adults, we know that prayer is a dialogue. We speak to the Lord and then we must take the time to listen to him. Children likewise need to be taught this. From when they were old enough to speak, we have encouraged our children to pray in their own words, offering their simple petitions and words of thanksgiving. When we pray a family rosary, we ask them to state their intentions. As they have gotten older, we have come to know the concerns of their hearts through these intentions. We have also taught them to pray over each other and us, again using their own words and asking for blessings for the person they are praying over. I was brought to tears one afternoon when I was not feeling well to wake up from a nap to find my children with their hands on my head asking the Lord to heal me.

For our children's First Reconciliation we gave them a gift of their own Bible and journal and have coached them to use their journal as a way to speak and listen to the Lord. At the beginning their journals consisted of little more than "I love you Jesus" written in 7 year old print. Over time, however, they have evolved into profound prayers of surrender and adoration. Through reading the scriptures on their own and journaling they are engaging in a personal dialogue with the Lord that is independent of us. 

Sometimes praying with your children is a near occasion of sin.
As I said at the beginning, our family certainly does not have this all together and sometimes, praying with our children is one of the most frustrating and exasperating tasks of the day.  I have already shared my tale of woe in our daily attempts to pray the Angelus here. Our struggles don't end there. We have had our fair share of battles over what constitutes appropriate Sunday dress. Our family evening rosary is generally preceded by 10 minutes of whining about why we have to pray a rosary. Perhaps my favorite of all is the comment: "I don't need to go to Confession, I never sin." (almost always said immediately after attempting to slug one's sibling). Family life is messy and complicated - we should expect that family prayer will be the same. Still, as parents we are responsible for teaching our children the ways of the faith - this is a promise we make at our children's Baptism. And so, we persevere echoing the words of St. Paul as we go: "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." (Phil 4:13)

Please use the comments box to share what has worked for you in teaching your children to pray. As my children are approaching the Tween and Teen years, I would especially love to hear how your family's prayer has evolved during those years...

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  1. From what you say it seems you are wonderful parents and may the Good Lord bless you and yours for all that you do.

    Praying together daily is important. Especially before meals which now seems to have stopped in many families. I like the idea of visiting church when it is empty. You have more time then to explain what is what and answer questions

    I remember a routine when we were young: Sundays was always spaghetti with tomato sauce. It became a family tradition which lasted all through our lives at our parental home.

    Thank you for visiting me. I've responded there.

    God bless you and yours.

  2. God bless you too Victor. I agree with you that a regular meal on Sundays is a beautiful tradition. I grew up in an Italian - American family and Sunday dinners at my Grandmother's after Mass is one of my favorite childhood memory. Somehow those shared family traditions do help foster our faith as well!

  3. I certainly understand how praying the rosary or going to mass together can turn into a 3 ring circus! Persistence is key from my experience. We have 9 kiddos aged 15 down to 6 months. We need to get better at routines---we have tried making every Friday evening Rosary night, for example. Things just get crazy, and all it takes is the stomach flu or a school play to mess up our routine! However, I know that somehow it is all sinking in. My husband had to go to a different mass, and I took the kids by myself. 2 of the middle ones served, and my oldest helped me juggle the baby and the toddler. I was praying to make it to communion, but the kids were amazing! Miracles do happen. ;) God bless.

    1. Thanks for visiting Jaimie! I totally agree-persistence is key!! God bless your family!

  4. Thanks for leading your little ones to a relationship with God; the gift that keeps on giving!

    Two things that we do, in addition to many of the great ideas you have above are:
    1. Every time we drive by a cemetery, we pray "Jesus and Mary, I love you! Save souls!" We begin the second we see the grave yard and continue until we are past it.
    2. Every time we hear an ambulance, we pray a Hail Mary for the victim, his/her family and those attending to him/her.

    God's blessing on you and yours!
    Kristen & Co.

    1. Thanks for stopping by Kristin! I love that idea of praying when you pass a cemetery I never thought of that before - we will be implementing that starting today! My little ones have so many questions about the deceased - this will be a great opportunity for teaching and prayer. We, too, pray at sound/sight of a siren. Such wisdom in the Body of Christ! God bless you!

  5. To help make learning to read fun and engaging, our reading program includes lesson stories that are matched to the progress of your child's reading abilities.

    These lessons stories are part of the learning program, and comes with colorful illustrations to make learning reading fun and engaging for you and your child.

    These are the exact same stories and step-by-step lessons that we used to teach our own children to read!

    Find out here: Teach Your Child To Read?

    Best rgs


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