Teaching Kids to Pray the Catholic Way

This post originally appeared as a guest blog I wrote for The Thin Place. You can find the original posts here:

Part 1: Teaching Kids to Pray: A Catholic Perspective.

Part 2: Teaching Kids to Pray: Common Catholic Prayers.

As Christian parents, we long to see our children embrace the faith we hold so dear to our hearts.

We teach them about Jesus and about the Bible. We help them learn about the virtues. We have them memorize daily prayers and, as they grow, study theology.

But most of all, we want them to have something deeper than a collection of facts and information.

We want our kids to love Jesus with all their hearts. To have a meaningful and vibrant relationship with Him.

We want them to be friends of Jesus, disciples of Jesus, followers of Him. They need to know Him so they can love Him.

And if they’re going to get to know Him, they need to talk to Him.

As parents, one of the most important parts of passing on our faith to our children is helping them to have a rich and meaningful prayer life – a life filled with conversation with God.

Praying Through the Senses

Catholics have a teaching commonly referred to as Theology of the Body. It’s based on the premise that humans are made in the image of God. Our bodies are designed to experience God’s presence in the world around us, as well as express our love for Him.

This is especially important in the faith formation of kids, since children aren’t abstract thinkers. They’re not ready to analyze and meditate and think lofty thoughts (and most of the time, neither am I).

Kids think with their senses and their hearts. And they pray that way, too.

One way Catholics define prayer is lifting our hearts and minds to God. Prayer isn’t about the words we say or the things we do. It’s about love. It’s about our relationship with Jesus.

So when we teach our kids to pray, in our family that means teaching them to love. And making sure they feel loved.

We teach them to pray with their senses. To experience God with what they see, hear, taste, and feel. Their sense experiences help them lift their minds to God.

Jesus, and prayer, aren’t abstract concepts for our children. They come alive in their lives through the world around them.

Praying with the sense of sight

Our home is full of visual reminders of our faith. We have crosses, paintings, and statues of Jesus, Mary, and the Saints. We have holy cards, illustrated scripture verses, and religious themed books and movies.

Since prayer is all about relationship, we make sure our kids are familiar with God. They see reminders of Him all around our home. These reminders help them know God more, think of Him more, and fall more in love with Him.

Praying with the sense of hearing

Children listen to everything and mimic back a lot of what they hear. We keep this in mind when praying with our kids.

They’ll hear us if we pray throughout the day. They can memorize rote prayer. They can learn instantaneous prayer if we model it.

One thing we do with our kids is encourage them to pray when they hear the sirens of an emergency vehicle. It’s a good way to teach children to respond to the suffering in this world by reaching out to God.

We do our best to fill our home with holy sounds. Christian music and podcasts can be heard playing from our speakers daily. One every car ride, we play Christian audiobooks and dramatized stories of the Saints.

Surrounding children with Godly sounds can be helpful in building a prayerful atmosphere in the home.

Praying with the sense of taste/smell

Grace before meals may be the most common family prayer among Christians. This prompt to prayer often incorporates both the senses of smell and taste.

When my kids smell something cooking, they rush to the kitchen to find out “What’s for dinner?” But they can’t dig in until we’ve thanked God for the gift of enough food to eat.

Usually we pray the standard, “Bless us oh Lord…” But sometimes we say thanks for specific foods – like fresh fruit or deliciously sweet ice cream.

Our kids are learning to be thankful for the gift of taste God blessed us with.

Praying with the sense of touch

The sense of touch is one of the biggest ones for my kids. It’s their primary love language.

We know that one of the best ways to pass on love for Jesus is to make sure our children feel loved.

So, during prayer time, we snuggle up on the couch with blankets and illustrated prayer books. During church we hug and hold our kids. In the evening my husband traces a cross on each child’s forehead as a bedtime blessing.

The tangible helps experience the intangible: the spiritual presence of God.

We also have a special box of prayer time toys – Rosary beads and statues, prayer blocks and cards – that only come out during family prayer.

We use the sense of touch to help our kids feel God’s presence during prayer time so they can know how real He is.

Common Catholic Prayers

The Catholic Church has a rich tradition of prayer that may seem unfamiliar and strange from the outside. But with a little closer inspection, the scriptural roots of many of these prayers are uncovered.

Some of these prayers have become integral parts of our family prayer life.

Attending Mass as a Family

The Holy Mass is centered around the gift of the Eucharist (Holy Communion) given to us by Jesus at the Last Supper.

At every Mass, we listen to readings from the Bible: the Old and New Testaments and the Gospel. We pray a Psalm together.

The Liturgy leads up to the high point: receiving Holy Communion.

Catholics believe that Holy Communion is more than a symbol. We believe that Jesus actually comes to us under the appearances of bread and wine, as He said, “This is my body… this is my blood…” (Matt 26: 26 – 28).

This holy union of God and man is the focal point of our faith. So we make Sunday Mass a top priority in our family. We bring the kids, sit up front, and do our best to help them know what’s going on: that Jesus is coming down from Heaven to give Himself to us.

It’s not always easy to bring the kids, but the Mass the ultimate example of how much Jesus loves us, and how we should love Him in return. A vital aspect of prayer to teach our kids.

Praying the Family Rosary

The Rosary is a scripture-based prayer that revolves around the events in Jesus’ life. On the surface, the Rosary seems like a boring, repetitive prayer. We say repeated rounds of “Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be” prayers.

The Our Father is a prayer given to us directly from Jesus. The Hail Mary is a prayer based on the Angel Gabriel’s greeting to Mary, and her cousin Elizabeth’s exclamation, both found in Luke 1. The Glory Be is a prayer of praise to the Holy Trinity.

Think of these repeated prayers as the cadence, or background, of the Rosary.

The meat of this prayer comes from diving into the Mysteries – the outline of events in Jesus’ life. From the Annunciation, to the miracles, the Last Supper, death, and Resurrection, we reflect on 20 major “Mysteries.”

For our family, we pray anywhere from one to five mysteries before bed time every night. Sometimes we read corresponding Bible texts as we reflect and pray. Other times, we talk about how the mysteries relate to events in our life.

The kids often use illustrated Rosary books, with a picture for each mystery or prayer.

Many different ways to pray

While there are many different ways to pray, Catholics identify some major categories. These types of prayer remind us that talking to God is about more than asking for things that we want.

We encourage our children to pray in a variety of ways by modeling these types of prayer and praying them together as a family.

Praying in adoration

Adoration comes from the word “adore.” Think about looking at someone lovingly. Adoration can also be called worship, and this type of prayer may only be directed towards God.

While we can worship or adore God at any time, Catholics have a special time of prayer called Adoration.

This is when we spend time in a church with the Eucharist (Holy Communion) displayed. We simply sit with Jesus, who is truly there, and give Him all our love.

Adoration is a good opportunity to teach our children to love and worship Jesus outside of Sunday church. We “stop by to see Jesus” just like we would stop by to visit our best friend.

Praying in Contrition

Contrition is when we pray in sorrow for our sins.

As Catholics, our most common form of this prayer is in Confession. In Confession, we admit that our holiness is still a work in progress by confessing our sinfulness to a priest. The priest stands in for Jesus and hears our confession under a vow of secrecy.

We teach our children that confession isn’t so much about what we did wrong, but about forgiveness and repairing our relationship with Jesus.

We take them with us when we go every month. We also practice asking each other for forgiveness and praying in contrition between confessions.

Praying in Petition

Perhaps the most popular type of prayer, petition is when we pray asking God for what we want or need.

When we pray in petition with our kids, we try to be mindful about leaving the door open to God’s will. We know that God always has our greatest good in mind, so our requests should reflect that.

For example, “Please help Daddy get this job if it’s Your will, Jesus.”

Sometimes our kids ask God for ridiculous things, and that’s okay. I look at those moments as building their trust in God’s omnipotence: His infinite power.

Our children will grow to learn that God can do all things, but He’s not a magic genie. He will only “grant our wishes” according to His Divine Providence.

Praying in Thanksgiving

Prayer of thanksgiving is too often overlooked. I have to be intentional about thanking God for every day and reminding our kids to do the same.

It only takes a moment to thank God for a beautiful day, a fun playdate, or an unexpected blessing.

Sometimes in our family, we each take turns praying for one thing we’re thankful for. It could be health or blessings or puppies or unicorns. We could find ourselves thankful for our children’s beautiful imaginations as they explore what they’re thankful for.

Praying in Intercession

Intercession is when we pray for someone else’s needs. We’ve been on both sides of this prayer. We often pray for people in need, and we’ve asked others for prayers for our needs plenty of times.

Catholics do something interesting and often misunderstood when it comes to intercession: we ask Mary and the Saints to pray for us.

The way we look at it, if we can ask live people to pray for us, then it would be helpful to ask those already in heaven – who see God face to face – to pray for us, too.

Our kids love stories of the Saints, and we try to find opportunities to encourage them to ask the Saints for their intercession.

For example, when we get in the car we always say, “St. Christopher, pray for us,” because he’s the patron Saint of travelers.

A Life of Prayer

When teaching our kids to pray, the most important thing to remember is that it’s not about us.

It’s not about checking this task off our daily to-do list. It’s not about forcing our children to sit still and quiet so we can relax and think.

If kids see prayer time as a chore, they may resent it as much as tasking out the trash.

We don’t have to be perfect at implementing family prayer time – I’m certainly not.

What’s important is helping our children build a living relationship with Jesus. Encouraging them to get familiar with talking to Him, turning to Him.

We simply ask Jesus to give us the grace we need to lead our children to Him, and trust Him to take it from there.

Dear Jesus, help our children experience family prayer as a time of being showered with great love – our love as parents, and Your love for them, dear God. Help them learn to return Your great love, and cherish their prayer life that leads them to You.

Amen.

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great post

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