“Dear Lord, ummm….”
Do your children’s prayers ever begin this way? I know my seven-year-old son’s prayers do!
Several months ago, he really started struggling with praying out loud. Previously, he had prayed fairly easily so we weren’t sure what to think! Was it a discipline issue? Was he “bored” during devotions?
While I don’t know that we have the exact answer yet, my husband and I have a couple of ideas:
- It could be a spiritual battle, Satan putting fear into the heart of my very sensitive child that his prayers aren’t good enough.
- It may be an issue of stubbornness, as he is becoming a bit more independent.
- It could just be a stage.
- It may honestly be that his mind is very busy (which it usually is!), making it hard for him to spontaneously think of things to pray about.
- It could be part of his personality!
Be purposeful, but don’t force it. As with most things concerning our Christian faith, we try not to make our family devotional time into a legalistic routine. It’s a busy time, as right now we do it in the evenings and so the kids are rather bouncy and loud. Whether you choose morning or night to spend time as a family in prayer, don’t push so much that it becomes a burden. Controlling your voice when you ask your child to pray and keeping it intentional but light is much better than hollering, “Hey, you! Your turn!”.
Give prayer prompts to help your child get started. This worked well for our daughter when she was 2 and can be good for older children as well who may be a little shy about beginning a prayer. Ask them to say “Dear Jesus” or “Dear Lord” or “Heavenly Father”. “Please be with…” or “Thank you for…” are other good prompts.
Be prepared. By giving your child a heads up about when devotions will begin or when it’s his or her turn to pray, they have a moment to think of what they will say when their time comes.
Use the A.C.T.S. acronym. This is a method that I use for myself and it is very effective as a reminder about some of the aspects of prayer. Write it down on a note card for your child to look at during prayer time.
A=Adoration (praising God for who He is)
C=Confession (calling to mind our sin and asking for forgiveness)
T=Thanksgiving (sharing things we are grateful for)
S=Supplication (bringing our requests to God)
Use prayer cards or “character cards” to jump start prayer. In our family, we rely heavily on our prayer card box and character cards to give our children ideas. It’s also a great way to remember to pray for family and friends on a regular basis by name. The character cards prompt us to pray for God to grow us in our faith and teach us how to live.
Don’t expect long prayers. Depending on the age of your hesitant pray-er, it may be less stressful for them if you allow them a short prayer. Many children can feel a pressure to “perform” when everyone is listening and I think it’s very important not to turn this into something that must be done for a certain length of time.
Write down prayers. While we wouldn’t recommend this for a long-term solution, my husband and I are now having our seven year old write down his prayers and then read them out loud. We honestly believe that because he is such a perfectionist he believes his prayers must come out of his mouth a certain way. We can reassure him that that isn’t the case but for a short time we believe this will be a helpful way to help him get out his thoughts and prayers.
Pray with your child alone. This isn’t something we’ve tried but if you have a very nervous or shy child, it may be good to just take him or her aside on their own and allow them to pray with you. Hopefully it will transition into them being more confident in praying out loud with the rest of the family!
Remember that having your child pray out loud is not a requisite for salvation and that it isn’t something they must do in order to be righteous before God or for their prayers to be valid. As parents, I believe we must not turn something that is gospel into a law-driven mandate.
That being said, we do need to use good judgement to determine whether our child is hesitant to pray because of a real issue or whether it is a problem of disobedience, which must be addressed accordingly.
Is your child hesitant to pray out loud? How do you help them when that happens?