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parents and child praying together

Teaching Kids To Pray

Teaching children the value of prayer is one of the best ways for them to grow in their relationship with God. When (and how) should parents teach them?


Teaching Kids To Pray


Mariel Gutierrez: Hello, I’m Mariel Gutierrez. Welcome to Faith and Family. We are a Christian family community that aims to provide Christian advice and promote Christian values. Today, we’re talking about fully-packed, pint-sized prayers. What are we teaching our kids when it comes to the content, opportunities, and benefits of prayer? How are we teaching them to be confident communicators with God? And why is being prayerful so important for the future of not only our kids, but the future of the Church Of Christ? With me today is Stephanie Canete from East Jacksonville, [Florida] and Robert Tapales from St. Petersburg, [Florida]. Hello! How are you guys?


Stephanie Canete: Hey, how are you, Mariel?


Robert Tapales: Oh, we’re doing great, Mar.


Mariel: Doing well! Tell us about your kids.


Robert: Okay, this is Robert. I’ll go ahead and get started. My wife and I have two children. We’ve got an older child, who’s our son. He’s 19 years old, in college. And we also have a daughter, who is 11-going-on-what-seems-to-be-30. But typical preteen angst and everything else that goes along with it in middle school.


Mariel: Mmm. 


Stephanie: We actually know Robert’s family very well. We’ve been together in our congregation and working on many projects. We’re close. And he’s actually in the same congregation where my parents are in right now—the grandparents of my children. We just love to visit them and I love his children. So, he gave you some basic information there.


Mariel: Oh!


Robert: She knows more than I do, probably. 


Mariel: Well, share with us! Share with us! I didn’t grow up with you guys so I want some of that! For me, I’ve got two kids. I have a son who is six years old and my daughter is nine. And I mean, like you said, Robert, man…she is nine-going-on, maybe like, 99. She’s super mature for her age, super-serious kid.


So anyway, just to get to it, we’re talking about prayer today, and as I was doing my research for our podcast before I came in here to talk to you guys. I found out that here in the United States, prayer isn’t something that’s, I would say, embraced nationally, right? Maybe it depends on where you are, geographically. Maybe it’s different, depending on what state you are in; what city you are in. But since the Supreme Court said no more prayers in school in 1963, a lot of Christian sects out there blame this decision for the current “anything goes” atmosphere that’s prevalent in the world, including [an] increase in teen pregnancies, divorce rates, and single-parent families. But for us, for members of the Church Of Christ, we try our best not to be part of those statistics, right? So, how are we passing down this virtue to our kids? 


Robert: Prayer is incorporated into the daily lives and daily processes of our kids, and it’s more [than] about just asking for things. It’s about gratitude, I think, more than anything else. You want to start by teaching them that, you know, you don’t only close your eyes and start praying, simply because, “I need to do well in school tomorrow,” or, “Because I really, really want that bike that I’ve been waiting for for years,” or, “I have a problem.” It’s understanding that God is the source of everything that we have.


Mariel: Yes, absolutely. 

How to talk to God

Stephanie: Prayer is so profound, so important, so fundamental to a life of a servant of God. And once you start a family, you take on a spouse, you’re already learning how to pray together. You wake up and both those eyes flip open and it’s like, “I’m breathing. My heart is beating.” Isn’t that a beautiful thing? And it’s so fun because those are the things that you can do with little children. A child could really get a heartbeat. You could take your hand and, “Feel mommy’s heartbeat. Put it right there on my chest.” And likewise, where you take their ear and you turn it to the chest and you just listen, and they get fascinated, like, “Wow! There’s a bu-bump-bu-bump, a thump-a-thump going on there.” And then you say, “Yeah, you know who makes that beat? You know who gives us that?” You tell them, “God.” And they learn about who He is and His nature


And then, they learn more every time we pray and we talk—because that’s what prayer is—talking to God. So, with little kids, [tell them,] “Open your eyes, close your eyes. Open your eyes, close your eyes. And who lets us see these things? Who gave you that gift of sight? And who gives us all of these wonderful things to look at?” And so, just pointing Him out, and then pointing out that it’s just not going to be there—that we have to take the time to talk to Him and to pray, and to be grateful for all these things. 


Mariel: Okay, so I guess it starts with the attitude of gratitude, right? In which we are constantly pointing out how God is providing for us, what He’s doing for us, and the things that we shouldn’t take for granted. Like you said, basic things like opening your eyes. You know what? Some people can’t even see. Right? And we can. You guys ever have that—when you get the sniffles and you just think about all the times where you took for granted just breathing properly? 


Robert: Yeah, yes.


Stephanie: Yes!


Robert: When allergy season kicks in, absolutely.


Mariel: Exactly! Okay, so that’s awesome. Check, I’m going to put that down on my list. What’s next though? What else do our kids need to know? What about maybe the accessibility of God?


Stephanie: Oh my goodness, so your child now knows, “I can talk to God,” and “God gave me everything I have and He intends for me good things.” So, with that level of understanding, or that awareness that you have so many blessings already, they realize, “He’s good and He is good to me.” And then, they also learn that God has expectations. That’s when we’re kind of afraid to talk to God—when we didn’t meet an expectation.


Mariel: Ah, yeah.


Stephanie: Yeah, right? And so, they know, “When I did something wrong,” or a child will use the word “bad,” and if they start attending the worship service for the children, they’ll hear the Bible’s term, which is “sin.” That’s when you teach them how forgiving and kind God is and that He can and He wants to forgive you. And that’s the beauty—because it works for you as a mom and a dad—it works for us. Because otherwise, they just continue to do that wrong over and over and over and over again. And then, “Well, God wants you to be better and this is His commandment. And when you said to God, ‘Please forgive me,’ how many times is He going to forgive you if you keep doing it?” And so, they [say,] “Ohh.” And then they realize, “So, I can call on Him when I’m happy, and I can call on Him when I have feelings like shame, or feelings like sorrow or sadness. I can call on Him when I’m just grateful. And I can call on Him when I need something.” 


So, you start to help them realize that He is accessible all the time. Mommy goes to sleep, but God doesn’t. He is there for you. Mommy and daddy—we’re away. And some kids now, they’ve got cell phones, right? But it’s got to stay in a pocket or in a backpack. And your teacher is going to give you a hard time if you request to pick up the cell phone because you have a concern. But you can easily bow your head and approach God and call on Him. 

Be closer to God

Mariel: I love that you mentioned, Annie, that you can teach your kids to go to God, even when they’re feeling ashamed, right? Because I feel like that’s what really strengthens a bond, I feel. Like, the act of forgiveness—the act of acceptance—of unconditional acceptance. That’s very much what a parent would do, right, for their child? “Yes, you’ve spilled this milk everywhere and I’m so tired and I’ll clean it up, but I forgive you.” You know, that sort of thing? And your kids actually take note of that.


Robert: I think that’s the first introduction into understanding what unconditional love really means—that no matter what you do, even though you’ve sinned, you’ve told a fib, you’ve told a lie to your mommy or daddy, you’ve done something wrong, you punched your brother in the nose, cause you’re really upset, you know? But you know that if you’re really sincere about it in your prayer, that God still loves you and He still accepts you. The evidence of that is that you’re able to still call on Him and have your prayers answered. So, learning that early, I think, is a huge step too, knowing that love isn’t limited by us just making mistakes. 

Teaching children the value of prayer

Mariel: So, you mentioned that love and having our prayers answered—and we’ve all experienced the various answers of prayers—it’s yes, no, maybe, and silence. Right? And I understand that some of these notions are probably going to be really hard to grasp, especially the “silence” one. So, how do we teach our kids about that part? 


Stephanie: How do we teach them to find God or to know that He’s there, answering when they just need stuff that is so tactile? They need concrete evidence, right? “I prayed for a bike. Where is it?”


Robert: Yeah, “It’s still sitting on the shelf at the store. Why is it not in my garage?”


Stephanie: Yes! “I wanted that video game,” “I wanted to go to the concert,” right? All these things. And again, that goes back to the gratitude piece and it goes back also to understanding our purpose. Our purpose is to serve God, right? Our purpose is we’re His sons and His daughters, and He has such good intentions and good plans for us. And so, how does what we want, what we’re requesting help us with that, right? So if I get that video game—which you really deserve—you should feel confident asking for it because you’re a great student, you’re a great helper at the home, and you know that mom and dad can’t really afford it right now—or maybe they can but you have to convince them, right. So, let’s ask God to convince them. But again, having that heart-to-heart with the child, pointing out, “Again, if you have a video game and you don’t have the self-discipline, it’s going to take away from your time. What’s the impact? What’s the consequence? Let’s play it through with cause and effect. If I get this game, now I’m glued to my TV screen an additional 3-4 hours a night. Why am I having migraines? Am I going to be able to do all the things that God wants me to experience in life? Maybe that’s why He’s holding out. Maybe we’re going to wait until the summer. What is best for us?”


Robert: It’s a constant reinforcement and reminder that God doesn’t always answer your prayers in the way that we think He is—just blatantly. Sometimes, that silence is what we have to be able to accept as being what the answer really is.


Stephanie: Completely. Our reactions to when God answers our prayer—there’s this wonderful little quick thing that I have to tell myself all the time: “More is caught than taught.” 


Robert: Yeah. That’s a great saying.


Stephanie: We could tell them, “Wait on God! Wait on God!” But when they see how we waited, they get it. They can draw from that so much more. And when I have a moment with my children, I try to connect with them. I try to give them 10 minutes—it doesn’t sound like a lot but man, it’s all I can afford and it’s so powerful—10 minutes of just you and just I, it always starts off and ends with—I sandwich it with the phrase, “Mommy prayed for you. I asked God for you and He gave me more than I wanted.” And at the end, we pray together and I just pray for them. I just let them know exactly everything I’m hoping God will do for them. It’s their dream and their life, and what God has planned for them as well.


Robert: As parents, we want our kids to be even better and more fortunate and even more successful than we are. That’s our goal for our kids. I think teaching them prayer is going to be that foundation and instilling in them that, “At some point, you’re going to be what mommy and daddy are: raising your own kids and wanting them to be able to learn the same way that you are—all of these important reasons for wanting to be able to pray properly and having God listen to you.”


Mariel: Absolutely, absolutely. Wise words to leave our listeners with. Listeners, thank you so much for hanging out with us today on this episode of Faith and Family. We hope you’ll join us again next time.