Babies who hear their parents praying don't really understand, but can tell their parents are talking to someone lovingly.
Neurosciences and psychology studies have proven that children understand the gist of what their parents are saying long before they understand the meaning of each word. So professionals advise reassuring children when a parent goes out of the house: “I’m leaving but I’ll be back. You’re safe.” In the same way, infants who hear their parents praying do not understand the meaning of each word, but understand that their parents are addressing someone lovingly.
Infants do not pray as such, but they hear their parents praying in their presence. They don’t understand everything that’s happening at that moment, but they can pick up a few snippets, for example when their parents give thanks for a trip to the park or request healing from an illness. Infants grasp some things that regard them, and feel that the parents are talking to someone who is watching over them.
When parents pray they are speaking to a person, thanking him for his kindness, and for the gift of life or for today’s Mass. Little ones soon learn the difference between a person who is praying and a person who is not, between words addressed to God and a simple conversation in the living room.
Fr. Augustin Bourgue, author of the book “Prier en famille: mission impossible?” (“Family Prayer: an Impossible Mission?”) has noted: “The child hears, and learns very quickly. The child senses that his parents are speaking to someone mysterious, invisible, and the child understands the invisible.”
Opening the child’s heart to prayer
By praying with their child, parents open their child’s heart to prayer and bring them into a personal relationship with God. What better gift than that?
Praying with small children is more than necessary; it is a matter of feeding them spiritually, just as much as parents take care to give them enough milk for their sustenance and growth. Moreover, prayer in these circumstances is an opportunity for the parents to pray as a couple. Fr. Augustin Bourgue notes, “It’s often at the birth of their child that parents begin to pray together.”
Just as parents love to cuddle their infants and hold them in their arms, the little children help their parents to let themselves be cuddled by the Lord and to be loved in turn. This is the power of love of infants: their existence invites their parents to pray as a couple, and this is the birth of the family. Newborn children are a source of love and warmth that transforms the hearts of their parents; that is the grace of their coming into the world.