In Theory: How do you teach children to pray?

Praying is a central and vital part of religion. But how do you teach and explain prayer to children?

Cheri Fuller, writing on, says one way of explaining prayer to small children is to tell them that it's a conversation; and just as they can talk to their parents, they can talk to God. She also recommends parents asking children to pray with them and not to pray out of their sight so they get used to seeing and hearing prayers. On, Shelley Elmblad says, "Children can start learning to pray even before they can speak in coherent sentences simply by allowing them to see you praying...." She says that teaching children a specific prayer such as the Lord's Prayer, and explaining its meaning, is another way to get youngsters used to prayer, and used to understanding it.

Q: Do you have any thoughts on the best ways to teaching children how to pray and explaining its importance? 

In Luke 11 (also Matthew 6) Jesus provided his so-called "Lord's Prayer" to answer his disciples' request that he teach them to pray. It's a model prayer, not a mantra, so if this is used to teach children what the content of their prayers might include, we have to get across the idea that it is but an outline.

As a kid, I didn't see or hear much prayer in my house, but I had memorized the "Now I lay me down to sleep...." prayer that I'm thinking perhaps my granny taught me. The point of prayer was never really discussed, so this particular one became something of a superstitious incantation to ward off the sand-man or whatever else might be lurking beneath my bed or in the closet. It had that creepy part about "if I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take." Today I believe that would be a happy circumstance, but as a child I didn't take much comfort in the idea of prematurely meeting God because I didn't survive a nightmare or monster attack.

So for kids to learn prayer, they need to be taught rightly, hear it, and be provided opportunity to pray. And when mealtime grace becomes little more than a mindless rhyme, you run the risk of foiling sincere prayer. God requires no artistic couplets to grab his attention and he isn't a soulless computer that requires special code for response. Prayer is communication directed toward a personal being who already knows everything, yet he still desires that we come to him. Where he speaks most loudly in return, or perhaps preliminarily, is in the Bible. Therein lies food for thoughtful prayer, and most of the answers for the questions about which we might pray. Is prayer important? God says, "Never stop praying" (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Amen.

The Rev. Bryan Griem
Montrose Community Church


Prayer is the most naturally supernatural thing we can do. It is a true conversation between us and Father God and involves both talking and listening. It is important that prayer does not become a ritual conducted according to a prescribed formula. The more vital and central prayer is to the spiritual life of the parent, the more children will understand prayer and engage in it themselves.

In our family, we include God in our daily activities, decision-making and special celebrations. Beginning in infancy, our children were exposed to prayers being said over them, blessings pronounced on them and intercessions made on their behalf. When they were young, we encouraged them to thank God for simple things, to ask God for help and to turn to God when they were frightened or upset.

We also had daily devotions as a family and discussed how God answered the prayers of people in the Bible. We invited our children to pray along with us and we modeled thanking God for blessings, asking him for wisdom in our activities, requesting things we needed and praying for others who had special concerns. We spent time remembering answers to our prayers and encouraging our children to see the connection between their prayers and subsequent events.

We always prayed at meal times and individually with each child before bedtime. Normally that prayer was a review of the day so that our children learned to see God's ongoing presence in their lives. We believe that the prayers of children carry as much spiritual weight with Father God as the prayers of adults. We have always taught our children to be bold in their prayers and to expect results. All of our children have grown into adults who are people of prayer.

Pastor Ché Ahn
HRock Church


Observant Muslims pray at five prescribed times a day toward the Kaaba in Mecca, an edifice dedicated to the oneness of God.

Islam teaches that once a child reaches puberty, parents are obligated to encourage their children to pray these five prayers. Prayer should be part of the family's culture and communal activities.

But Islam also teaches the purpose of prayer isn't to engage in mechanical movements like an automaton. Rather, the five daily prayers are a disciplined way we develop a connection, a relationship, with our creator to receive his mercy, forgiveness and soulful peace, and train ourselves to submit to his will.

With that in mind, how do we teach prayer to a child so that it becomes a sustained part of their life? That is a difficult question, given that each child is unique. Their eventual affinity to prayer (or lack thereof) will be affected by a variety of factors — parental modeling, external influences, peer influences and more.

For parents of younger children, in addition to modeling prayer in the home, Koranic (or Biblical) storytelling is one method. Telling fascinating stories is a time-honored way of captivating the child's imagination and is something they look forward to. As a result, Koranic stories imbue a sense of faith and belief. The story of Moses being floated down the river by his mother, then to be reunited with her in Pharaoh's house; the story of Yunus (Jonah) swallowed by the whale due to lack of faith in himself and others; the story of the Virgin Mary and the miraculous birth of Jesus. All these stories and more, if told in a fascinating and meaningful way, can ignite a child's faith and lead to the dedication to prayer — not begrudgingly, but from a sense God-consciousness.

Omar Ricci


As I have often stated here, children, and all of us, are hot-wired for spiritual connection. As a minister and a theologian, it seems to me that when we lose our way, it is because we don't understand the nature and the strength of our bond with the Almighty Spirit. Therefore, step one of teaching children to pray is to get their imaginations going, wondering and learning just who God might be.

Do the Bible stories and our experiences teach us that God is a stern disciplinarian who sits on a throne judging everything we do, generally frowning on every human impulse that excites us and stirs us to creativity, joy and diversity? Is God a strict leader who wants all humans to have a cookie-cutter, cut-from-the-same-mold faith?

Or could God be something different? Do the canonical accounts of human encounters with the divine, as well as our own experiences with spirit, point to adumbrations of God as ever-present help, always urging us to be, and encouraging our sisters and brothers to be their best in every situation? The second description has come to be my understanding of God. That is the apprehension of God that leads me to help children and adults approach prayer. Prayer is connection with that force that is life-giving and affirming. Thoughtfulness is a prayer. Kindness is a prayer. Concentration is a prayer. Discipline to improve one's self is a prayer. So is reflecting on how marvelous and full of promise life is. Teaching children to feel grateful for the experience of life is a prayer. Prayer is being aware of God-for-us, connecting with God-for-us. We teach our children and ourselves how to find words to respond to that presence, and speak words of gratefulness and supplication to that presence.

The Rev. Dr. William Thomas Jr.
Little White Chapel


The idea of prayer being a conversation with God is a good one, but I would hasten to add that praying is not a one-way thing with our rattling off every single worry in our minds without waiting to "hear" what God has to say.

There is a marvelous passage in the Old Testament that says, "Be still, and know that I am God." That's from Psalm 46:10, but the concept can be found elsewhere, too. The whole idea of prayer, I believe, is to try to bring our minds closer to the divine mind, if I may use that term.

In the movie "Shadowlands," Anthony Hopkins plays the Oxford don C. S. Lewis. In one lecture, Hopkins' character says, "Prayer doesn't change God; prayer changes me." Such a concept can be seen in quite dramatic fashion when Jesus is praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, knowing that his time is short. He knows what's ahead for him: arrest, torture and death, and he even prays that God remove that "cup" from him. But in the end he prays, "Not my will but thy will be done" (Matthew 26:39).

So prayer can be a conversation with God, but remember that a conversation is not a monologue. And what we get from prayer may not be what we wanted or expected. Sometimes God says yes, but sometimes God says no — or at least it seems to us at the time that the answer is no. So in our walk and talk with God, we need to listen and we need to be of the mindset that Jesus finally had: not my will but thy will be done.

The Rev. Skip Lindeman
La Cañada Congregational Church
La Cañada Flintridge


The most meaningful important step in teaching children to pray is to be an example. In a family of trusting relationships, young children will naturally follow their parents as they kneel together in prayer. Children may not understand theology, but they easily grasp the concept of a kind being that stands ready to help them.

I don't remember exactly when my parents began teaching me to pray. I simply remember it as something that we did. We prayed before meals and at night before going to bed. My mother, as I recall, usually helped my sister and I through our nightly appeals. She must have taught us to ask the Lord to watch over loved ones and for help with the things we found difficult or frightening. These are the things I remember praying about most frequently. I still pray about them, along with other things.

It may be that our prayers in those days sometimes turned into laundry-list recitations, but the habit of prayer was ingrained. We could feel the warmth of God's spirit as prayers were offered. So children can learn at an early age to seek the Lord's help and they can know when their prayers are heard.

In the LDS church we are taught a particular approach to spoken prayer: We address our Father in Heaven by name, giving thanks from the heart for our blessings. We then ask for help regarding things that we or others may need. We close the prayer in the name of Jesus Christ.

We teach our children this structure, which we consider a demonstration of respect for God. However, it really isn't format, but the sincerity and faith behind the prayer that really matters. God hears and answers any sincere appeal, in any language, spoken or unspoken.

Michael White
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
La Crescenta


Of course, teaching children about the practice of prayer depends upon their age and ability to understand abstract concepts.

Generally, Unity teaches children that we are all children of God, the one power and the one presence. We are all members of the human family and everyone is included in the family, no matter what their race, cultural or religious beliefs.

We also tell children that they each have the light and love of God within them. This is described as their "Good Self, My God-Self," and that through the power of their own thoughts, prayers and choices, they are making their world, every day. We teach our children that everyone can be a person of peace, love and understanding.

There are a few lines in an old, familiar Unity hymn: "We make our own world, wherever we are. We can make it happy, we can live in beauty. We can live in a heaven or hell, our attitudes will say." That sums up our Sunday School and Youth Education for young people attending a Unity church.

The Rev. Jeri Linn
Unity Church of the Valley
La Crescenta


I'm not sure that teaching a child to pray is fundamentally different than teaching an adult. So let's learn from the example Jesus set with his disciples. Certainly our children are our disciples. "While [Jesus] was praying in a certain place, after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, 'Lord, teach us to pray just as John also taught his disciples.' And he said to them, 'When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come.'" (Luke 11:1-2).

Jesus prayed with and in front of his disciples. They knew it was important by the example he set. They knew he would often rise early to pray by himself and that he would even pray through the night. They heard what he prayed to the Father and were thus witnesses to its effectiveness when the prayers were answered. They also lived in a cultural context of prayers, seeing John pray with his followers.

So some practical suggestions would be to pray with your children. Be a person of prayer, not just in front of them, but as a personal pursuit. Pray specifically with them so that God's answers will be evident when they come. Teach them simple prayers like the Lord's Prayer as examples, explaining the meaning of the requests. Raise them in the context of the church, where they see people outside of their immediate family praying too. Be in front of your children what you wish them to become.

Pastor Jon Barta
Valley Baptist Church

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