Most Catholic parents would agree on the importance of praying with our sons and daughters. The Church teaches us that we are the primary faith educators of our children, and what better way to teach them about God than by talking to God? That being said, praying with young kids can be difficult at times. It’s hard to get toddlers and small children to sit still for thirty seconds let alone engage in a focused dialogue with an invisible God, and it can be tempting to put off lessons about prayer until our kids are a little bit older.
Rather than getting overwhelmed by the prospect of teaching your son or daughter how to pray, consider starting very simply and early by reading to your children prayers written by others. By reading prayers to kids, you help them develop a vocabulary for prayer and teach them about the nature of God. Remember, the apostles benefited from having an example of good prayer; why shouldn’t we?!
Here are four prayers that you can say with your children to help them learn both how to pray and about God.
The Psalms, in general, are a beautiful introduction to prayer for people of any age. Voicing the spectrum of human emotion, they demonstrate to us that we can go to God in prayer wherever we are, as we are: joyful, raging, awestruck or sorrowful. I was reminded of the beauty of Psalm 23 when my daughter’s godmother gifted her with a children’s version of the Psalm 23 for her baptism. “God is my shepherd, and I am his little lamb,” the book begins. “Even when I walk through dark, scary, lonely places…He is here with me.” If the one message my daughter takes away from the faith formation that her dad and I provide for her at home is that she’s God’s “little lamb,” never alone and always held by God’s “unbreaking always and forever love,” I will be thrilled.
Open My Eyes, by Jesse Manibusan
Who needs Brahms’ lullaby if this song is in your repertoire? Aside from the fact that the soothing melody will calm any baby to sleep, the music contains a powerful prayer: “Open my eyes, Lord; help me to see your face…Open my ears, Lord; help me to hear your voice…Open my heart, Lord; help me to love like you.” This prayerful song conveys the message that our prayer involves both speaking to and listening for God.
Bless us, O Lord and We give Thee thanks
Bless us, O Lord, and these Thy gifts,
which we are about to receive from Thy
bounty, through Christ our Lord. Amen.
We give Thee thanks for all Thy benefits,
Almighty God, who lives and reigns forever. Amen.
May the souls of the faithful departed,
through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.
I grew up in a family that began and ended each meal with these traditional blessings. Although our family’s dinner rituals caused a minor dose of embarrassment to third-grade me ("The Codas pray before and after meals. They aren’t allowed to get up from the table until they say a prayer.”), I see tremendous value in the practice of mealtime prayers now that I am an adult. They give us an opportunity to ask for blessings and to give thanks, two of the most basic forms of prayer. Conveniently, they also mark a clear beginning and ending to family mealtime.
The LORD bless you and keep you!
The LORD let his face shine upon you and be gracious to you!
The LORD look upon you kindly and give you peace!
Instead of a prayer to be spoken with your little ones, Numbers 6:24-26 are words of blessing to be bestowed upon your children (or anyone, for that matter). I love the distinction that Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg makes between prayer and blessing in her parenting memoir, Nurture the Wow. Whereas prayer is a communication between us and God, an offering up and sometimes a sort of receiving, "blessing, on the other hand, is something that we can give over to other people—something we can bestow on one another, rather than on the divine.” Blessing is a gift, in part because of its potential efficacy, but also because it tells our children what we most deeply desire for them. The blessing in Numbers 6 tells our children that we long for God to hold them close and bring them grace and peace.
Like most aspects of parenting, teaching our children to pray is both deeply rewarding and challenging at times. Do yourself a favor and start simply: take just a few minutes to read these prayers (or others!) to your children.