Praying with our children is an important part of living out our vocation to be “the first heralds of the faith” (CCC 1656) to our children. But in the hustle and bustle of everyday, the appointments and chores and drop-offs and endless demands, it can be hard to carve out time and space to gather as a family in prayer. Here are some ways you can make prayer a priority for your family, even with rambunctious little ones running around.
KEEP PRAYER TIME PEACEFUL AND POSITIVE
As Catholic parents, the most important part of family prayer is modeling for our children the joy that our faith brings us. The best way to keep prayer time peaceful is to keep in mind the ages and developmental stages of your children, so that you are realistic about what they’re capable of. There is a season of life for praying all four sets of mysteries of the Rosary as you hike around a Marian shrine on a family pilgrimage, and there is a season of life for teaching a toddler to pray one Hail Mary before bedtime. Sometimes those seasons coincide, and sometimes they don’t.
A wise priest once told me, “God does not ask us to be perfect in this life, but to be faithful.” We can try to be faithfully consistent in our family prayer, without worrying if it doesn’t always go as we’d hoped. Give God the best you’ve got, right now, in this moment, and watch Him work wonders with it.
AT THE SAME TIME, DON’T UNDERESTIMATE YOUR KID
If you introduce your children to Christ, and encourage their relationship with Him, you may be amazed at their theological insights and understanding even at a young age. And as you persist in family prayer, your children can develop the habit of listening and participating during this time.
Chews Life founder Shannon Wendt shared her own experience with praying an evening Rosary with her children over time: “The little ones climb around and don’t always pay attention, but they’re listening. It looked like a mess at first, but as we have made this a habit in our family, they’ve settled down and now they enjoy the chance to all sit together, to slow down, to spend that time together.”
Even if things are messy, your faithfulness in prayer and in teaching your children to pray will not go unseen by God.
ENGAGE THEIR SENSES
Young children learn best through tactile, sensory experiences, and giving them something to hold or do may help keep their interest. One way to do this is through making space for a prayer table or home altar. This is a recommended strategy for families using the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd for religious education, and there’s even a book, The Little Oratory, with practical advice. Children old enough to read might like following along with a Rosary book. One easy way to show children of any age that prayer time is special and sacred is to light a candle as you begin.
Extra wiggly toddlers might be given the special job of carrying around a crucifix or holy card for the older family members to kiss, or you might have them place a craft flower in front of an image of Our Lady with each Hail Mary said—a beautiful illustration of what exactly we are doing when we pray the Rosary. For the very youngest, you might use a baby-safe rosary, like these from Chews Life. Wendt hopes her products can encourage parents to pray with their babies from the start: “We want to create rosaries that promote a culture of life and that last a lifetime. We make rosaries for everyone, even a baby on their first day of life.”
USE “HOOKS” TO REMIND YOURSELF
A trick for remembering to pray is to “hook” it onto another activity that you already do. For example, you might develop the habit of praying a Morning Offering with your family during breakfast or on the drive to school. When you drive past a Catholic church, you might make a spiritual communion with older kids, or encourage your little ones to blow a kiss to Jesus in the tabernacle. Many families say a prayer for the person in need when they hear an ambulance or fire truck siren. You might pray a family Rosary after dinner, or lead your kids in making an examination of conscience during your bedtime routine. Even saying a quick “St. Anthony, help!” when you need to find something is a great way to teach your children to always turn to God in times of trouble.
TALK TO JESUS LIKE YOU’RE TALKING TO A FRIEND
Pope Benedict XVI wrote, “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”
Show your child how your faith has given your life that “new horizon,” and help them encounter the person of Christ and learn to love Him as you do. Stop in to an adoration chapel or church whenever you have a chance, just to say hi, and remind your children, “Jesus is waiting here for us to come see Him.” During family prayer, ask them what they want to talk to God about. Show them that the time you spend in prayer is the highlight of your day, and that God is the center of your life.