Seven Quick Thoughts on Praying with Your Kids

Most of us probably think it’s a good idea, at least in theory, to pray with our kids at bedtime. But we may be unsure of what we should pray with them about. Or we may think we sound like one of those particularly annoying toys that repeats the same phrases over and over again. Not to mention all the times when we’re dog-tired or the kids are on the verge of meltdown because they’ve stayed up way too late for one reason or another. And in my house at least, there’s three of the little buggers, which in itself can make the hill look that much higher to climb. So yes, there are plenty of things that might discourage us from turning something good in theory into our actual practice.

With all that in mind, here are a few things to remember as we consider praying for our kids. I’ve thought of bedtime specifically as I’ve written these, but I think they’re relevant for most other times as well.

1. Something’s better than nothing.

We often get demotivated when our ideal doesn’t match up with reality. Since we can’t get six things marked off our to-do list we end up doing nothing. We can’t get a full hour at the gym so we don’t go. But we’d often be better off if we took care of at least one thing, or got in 20–30 minutes of a workout. The same is true here. For a thousand reasons, it might be less than ideal to pray with your kids at a given time. But something is usually better than nothing. And this leads to the next point.

2. It’s not how long you pray.

My kids are not likely to sit attentively for long periods of time with heads bowed and a soft glow emanating from their angelic faces. Then again, I have problems as an adult keeping focused in my prayers. So while I certainly want to teach my kids respect for God, I take comfort in the fact that the Bible doesn’t teach that the length of our prayer is directly correlated with its spiritual significance (after all, the Lord’s Prayer is pretty short). It’s usually best to keep things brief and to the point, and then trust God to use it.

3. Repeating yourself can be a good thing.

Will your kids tune you out if you pray the same things all the time? Maybe. Then again, you probably still remember a lot of the things that your parents repeated to you over and over. (There are times I might wish I could forget my dad saying, “If a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.”) If something is important—like having a heart that follows and trusts in Jesus—then I don’t mind praying for it a lot, both for myself and for them. Doing so makes it more likely that your kids will embrace that importance for themselves over time.

4. You’re the most effective model your kids have.

Many parents have had the surprising/convicting/embarrassing experience of seeing their, ahem, less than desirable actions imitated by their kids. (It can be humbling for my wife and me to listen to our kids play make believe with anything involving a mommy or daddy.) Turns out kids can easily model our bad behavior. But the good news is that kids can easily model good things as well. And you’re the most immediate and effective model you kids have. Seeing you taking to God with them on a consistent basis will demystify the act of praying for your kids and go a long way toward helping them establish it as a habit in their own lives.

5. Involve your kids—even if they’re very young.

One thing I’ve done occasionally (and that I’d like to do more of) is to ask my kids to share one thing they’re thankful for and/or one thing they want to ask God to help them with. This helps kids to see the very real link between prayer and their everyday lives (and it gives you as a parent a better idea of what your child is excited or worried about—which might inform your own prayers). Also don’t be afraid to ask your kids to do the praying. Again, when you pray with them consistently, you’ll be teaching them how to do this by default.

6. Keep the main thing the main thing.

The thing that I most want for my kids—more than doing well at school, getting a good job, having a family of their own, etc.—is for them to trust in and follow Jesus. So when I pray with them, my prayers consistently reflect that. I can’t change their hearts, but God can.

7. Pray the Bible.

If you’re looking for what to pray with and for your kids, you need to look no further than the Bible. If you read something that sticks out to you, read and pray it with your kids. Pray a passage like Isaiah 41:10. Pray blessings over them, like those found in Numbers 6:24-26, Ephesians 3:17-19, or Jude 24-25. Pray Psalm 23, Psalm 34:8-9, or Psalm 73:25-26, or any other psalm for that matter. Pray the Lord’s Prayer with them. One of the things that God’s word is there to do is to shape our prayers (like the rest of our lives). Let’s use it to do just that.

2 Comments

  1. toddbest said:

    Nathan, I appreciate your very down to earth approach to praying with our children. We have found at least two things to be helpful for us (and are always looking for more).

    First is a wonderful book by Greg and Suzanne Wolfe (Image Journal) called Circle of Grace: Praying With – and for – Your Children. While I think it is out of print, there are used copies available online through the usual sources.

    The second is a phone app called Pray as You Go (I learned about this through Scott Johnson). It has a couple different options to help nurture contemplative prayer. The one that we like to use with our kids…and that they really like….is called “The Examen” (they have one for children) which is audio reflection on the day which leads to kids thinking through what brought them joy, what was sad, what they are sorry for, and what they look toward tomorrow.

    I would like to know what you or other readers have found to be useful resources for family prayer/devotional reflection.

    tb

  2. Landon said:

    So many wise takeaways here! I’ve found that the innocence and honesty with which a young child prays (even if only about themselves) is convicting for me to hear for my own prayer life. Great post!

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