Training Wheels for Your Child’s Prayer Life

Training Wheels for Your Child's Prayer Life

(Today I’m excited to share this guest post from author and Church History professor Gary Neal Hansen. These are great insights into helping our kids develop a deeper prayer life!)

Maybe you think intimate conversation with God is the most natural thing in the world. If you do, you’re right: we really were created for this. But all relationships, even with people, take skills.

Kids have to grow in the skills of prayer.

You wouldn’t just set your three-year-old on a bike and give her a shove. You bolt on some training wheels.

There are training wheels for prayer too!

In my book Kneeling with Giants: Learning to Pray with History’s Best Teachers, I talk about ten approaches to prayer. Several have wisdom for teaching kids to pray. Let me highlight two.


1. Training Wheels from St. Benedict: A Daily Pattern of Prayer

Imagine yourself as a Benedictine nun. You would miss your kids, but you would have one very rich prayer life.

Every day of your life, prayer would have two qualities.

First, prayer would happen at regular, predictable times. Everyone would gather to pray seven times a day.

Second, those prayer times would be built around written prayers. The Psalms and other parts of the Bible would give you words to speak to God.

These ideas may seem counter-cultural, but both represent fifteen centuries of wisdom.

First wheel: Create a daily cycle of prayer with your kids.

Find the times when prayer fits throughout the day so prayer marks the rhythm of your family’s life. If together you ask God’s blessing before meals, and give God your troubles at bedtime, your kids will get used to praying four times a day.

This is not all of what prayer should be, but it is a crucial part. What you are aiming for is a habit of prayer.

If your kids don’t feel right eating or falling asleep without talking to God, you’re making progress.

Second wheel: Start with good pre-made prayers.

Sometimes we think rote prayers are second class, a step down from praying in our own words. The monastery reminds us that we need all the help we can get to learn to talk to the Creator and Ruler of the universe.

Our family uses a few table graces and the kids know them by heart. My favorite is Psalm 145:15-16, which I learned at a Benedictine monastery: “The eyes of all look to you, O Lord, to give them their food in due season. You open your hand and fill every living creature with blessing. Amen.”

At bedtime we each share something that they are thankful for and respond together, “Thank you God!” Someday we may change the response to the refrain of Psalm 136: “His love endures forever!”

Biblical words teach us to pray in deeper and broader ways than we sometimes can think of ourselves. The Psalms, the Lord’s Prayer, and other biblical prayers give your kids a deep well to draw from when they talk to God.


2. Learning to Pedal with St. Teresa of Ávila: Know Who You’re Talking To

Once your kids are accustomed to rote prayers, it’s time to learn to talk to God more naturally. There is no better teacher than Teresa of Ávila (d. 1582).

Teresa starts by studying who God is in Scripture. Then she thinks about who she herself must be in relation to this portrait of God. Conversation flows from clear understanding.

Two of her favorite portraits of God are “King” and “Bridegroom.”

Talking to God as King

If God is King, you need to be His obedient subject. You are not God’s equal. You approach with humility, even trembling, to the foot of the throne. You speak respectfully.

You can also take confidence: The King invites you to come and make your request. The King has the power and authority to grant what you need.

See how thinking of God as King can shape your prayer life?

Talking to Jesus as Bridegroom

If you think of Jesus as your Bridegroom, then you realize you are the beloved bride. You are lifted to his level, side by side, in joyful intimacy.

You can pour out your love and devotion, or your pain and sorrow, knowing He will respond with tenderness.

See how thinking of Jesus as Bridegroom can shape your prayer life?

Take up one particular way the Bible portrays God at a time. Talk about it with your kids. Show how you talk to God in that role. Invite them to share their own prayers. The better they know who God is, and who they are in relation to Him, the better they can pray.

Soon they’ll be able to ride all on their own.

I would love to hear from you in the comments: What are your struggles and successes teaching your kids to pray?

Gary Neal HansenGary Neal Hansen is author of the award-winning book Kneeling with Giants: Learning to Pray with History’s Best Teachers (InterVarsity Press, 2012). He would love to connect with you on his blog ( where he mines the best of the Christian past, seeking wisdom for our changing world. He lives in Dubuque, Iowa with his wife and two small children, and serves as Associate Professor of Church History at the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary.

9 thoughts on “Training Wheels for Your Child’s Prayer Life”

  1. Pingback: Guest Post on “Training Wheels for Your Child’s Prayer Life”

  2. Thank you so much for sharing with us today, Gary! I’ll respond to your question by saying that my biggest challenge right now is bringing in different aspects of prayer during our family time. For example, the kids are good at this point of giving thanks for all kinds of things, but I am starting to work with them on confession and supplication. I really love your insights about thinking of God as King and Jesus as Bridegroom when we pray. I’m going to talk to my kids about that tonight!

  3. Thanks so much, Natasha! I’m honored to be able to appear here on your site.

    I think supplication (or intercession) are much easier than confession. Real confession requires feelings of genuine sorrow for doing the wrong thing, and that requires some emotional or psychological development. I’ve heard the words “I’m sorry!” in a sneering tone way too many times.

    I have seen some success through modeling age-appropriate requests for the child’s own needs or the needs of others. It totally melted my heart when my son prayed for healing when I was sick a few weeks back!

  4. I was glad to read this post and seek to implement some of Gary’s ideas but it concerns me he relies on what appear to be Roman Catholic sources e.g. Benedictine nuns and RC saints. I am not doubting some of these may have been true believers BUT monasticism was wrong and RC dogma is poison!

    1. I’m sorry you feel that way! Personally anyone who loves and follows Jesus is my sister or brother — and I’m in awe of people like Benedict and Teresa who sought Him with all their hearts and led countless others to richer faith and more effective discipleship.

  5. Just came across your blog this evening. I am a single mom and did my best to model praying for my sons. I taught them the Lord’s prayer and we all memorized scripture verses. I think the most important thing is to let them see you praying on a regular basis. We model what we see our parents doing, more than what they tell us to do. In the end, every child will decide what to do about Jesus on his/her own and everyone is on their own path.

    1. Hi Ariel! Sorry for the delay in replying. I think you are very right that what we model is what they will learn. That’s true in all aspects, from prayer, to worship, to character. If we pray for our kids, and pray in ways that our kids see, and pray with our kids in age-appropriate ways, it becomes a well-rounded lesson. I hope it goes deep to your kids’ hearts and souls!

  6. I want to say thank you for the sharing about the prayer life for our children,reading the information has opened my eyes and may the Holy Spirit keep on teaching us how to pray and what we need to do,so that our kids can grow loving to pray.
    Stay blessed

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