If you are a new parent or have a couple of toddlers in your family, you may wonder how to pray with your child or your very young children. You may even wonder if it’s okay for them to pray their own prayers to God.
What would they say? How do you go about teaching your toddler to pray? Will prayer even make sense to someone so young? Is it worth doing if they may not even realize what they are doing?
These and other questions may arise for you, just as they do for other new parents. You are not alone.
How do you pray with your toddler?
Make sure your toddler sees and hears you praying regularly. Tell your child that prayer is talking with God. Let them tell God or ask God in their words. Pick a consistent time or place in your child’s day, and “attach” prayer to that moment so it becomes a habit.
Together, we’ll look at some ways to incorporate prayer into your toddler’s life. We’ll make some recommendations, but it’s ultimately up to you, the parent, not only to be the pray-er, but to also help your child learn more about God as they pray too. This could be one of the most important things you do with your toddler, so why not start today?
Let’s take a look at some key points to consider as you begin this exciting spiritual journey with your child.
You’ve Got To Be Praying
It makes sense, doesn’t it? You want to be familiar and comfortable praying to God before you try to help your toddler learn to pray. If you have been regularly praying for awhile, good for you! If it’s been some time since you have prayed for more than your meal, don’t worry. There are many prayers on this site for you to use in different areas of your life: surgery, workplace, forgiveness, and various other aspects of life. To make things even easier, we also have more than 50 easy prayers that you can use to pray with your toddler.
Your prayers don’t have to be fancy or long. They just need to be sincere. When you pray, or begin to pray regularly, be sure your toddler sees you and hears you. If prayer is something their mommy or daddy does, then it must be okay and something they’d want to do as well. This is part of what God meant when he gave instructions to Moses:
“These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deuteronomy 6.6-7, NIV).
Prayer cannot be a one-time deal each day. For your own spiritual growth as a parent, you need to pray at different points in your day. As your toddler watches you do this, they are becoming accustomed to the reality that prayer is something that is actually done. You are modeling for them an action you want them to learn.
If you’re praying and then start to teach your child to pray, it saves you from the bad cliche’ of “Do as I say, not as I do.” We, as parents, want to set a good example for our kids to follow. While the Apostle Paul was admonishing dads when he wrote this, I believe the principle extends to all parents, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6.4, NIV).
Prayer Is Talking To God
Your toddler has a vocabulary of at least 200 words or more, typically. They can speak two or three-word sentences usually. You can work with that when it comes to prayer. If your child has less vocabulary that’s okay too, not to worry.
Just start with where your toddler is in their language foundation and skills. At this stage of the process, it’s more about building the habit into their young lives than how many words they use to pray. The wisdom of Proverbs reminds us of this truth, “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22.6, NIV).
Remind your toddler that prayer is simply talking to God, just like you are talking to them. Let them know that God loves them and God is with them in their heart and mind. To get them started, you may ask questions such as, “What did you enjoy about today?” Or some other question about favorite toy they played with, or best food they like, or any other verbal encouragement to get them talking.
You can also start with some simple prayers throughout their day. Some examples may include:
1. When Something Good Happens
This is an opportunity to pray something like, “Thank you God. Thank you for goodness.”
2. When Facing a Tough Situation
You can pray with them a prayer such as, “Help us, Lord.” Or, “We need you, God.”
3. When You Eat
At least three times a day, you can pray with your toddler, “Thanks for our food, God.”
4. When Going to Bed
At nighttime, you can build a habit of prayer as your toddler goes to bed. Some examples may include, “Help me sleep, God.” Or, “Thank you for today, God.”
There are many useful prayers you can make use of to get you started. If starting this habit is a little bumpy at first, you can relax as what you’re doing is not about perfection, but building purpose into your child’s life and habits.
Let Toddlers Speak To God
You don’t need to fret if your child’s prayers don’t make too much sense at first. Remember, they are just now learning to talk, and also to talk with God. God is not someone they can see or touch but they are going to try and talk to him. Assure them that God hears them, even if they can’t see him.
While you can certainly suggest prayers they can pray, you may want to simply let them talk to God however they want to talk to God. Try it a few times and see what happens. Children can approach God much differently than we (perhaps) jaded adults may. To echo Jesus’ own words:
“Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there” (Matthew 19.13-15, NIV).
I can remember when both of my children were younger, they would say the most profound things at random times in their day. We would be in the car talking about something mundane like ice cream and then they’d utter, “People feel good when they eat ice cream.” We’d pause for a moment to absorb this and then respond with “Uh, yeah, sweetheart, yes they do.” Wow. So young, yet they’d made the connection to the meaning of “comfort food,” even though they weren’t even aware of the concept at two years old.
I share this personal anecdote as an encouragement to allow your toddler to speak what’s in their heart. You may discover from time to time you are in the very presence of the Divine when they say something to God.
Praying with your toddler can be a rewarding experience for you as a parent. With as much negativity as we adults find ourselves facing each day, wouldn’t it be great to inject some positivity into the mix? And, what could be more positive than prayer?
As you teach your child to talk with God, it’s helpful to take the long view on the practice of prayer. What you’re teaching them now may not seem like much, or you may think you’re not seeing any results. What you’re doing is instilling in their minds and hearts the understanding that there’s a God out there who hears them. You’re showing them, bit by bit, that there’s a God they can talk to about anything in their life (including their stuffed bear and how they don’t like carrots).
How they pray isn’t as important as helping them build a relationship with God. So don’t worry about whether they close their eyes, bow their head or even shout their prayers sometimes- the habit is what’s most important.
“Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him” (Psalm 127.3, NIV).