Before we had children, I imagined, as you may have done yourself, of the time when we might be able to pray together. It was quite a shock as I realised, already pregnant, that children are barely able to talk in sentences until they’re at least two! I hadn’t imagined needing tips for praying with toddlers who were unable to stretch beyond single words, if that. I thought it would all come later.
But I wanted to pray with them as toddlers so desperately. Thankfully, you learn your parenting craft by trial and error and I found many ways to pray with very small, even pre-verbal children. Here are some ideas; not as a recipe for you and your child necessarily but maybe to inspire or provoke some great prayer experiences with your small person.
Some are suitable for thank you prayers, some for please prayers and some for calming or blessing prayers, say, at bedtime. All give the child some measure of participation and, not just the experience of prayer but some training in the kind of things we can bring to God and when we can do that, i.e. everything and everywhere!
Playmobil or other small world play
I’ve written in more detail about praying with Playmobil but basically you set up a little scene with toy characters, maybe using dolls house figures or you could use teddies. Handle the toys as you pray and allow your child to play with them too. You can either use them to explain a difficult situation you are praying for (for us it was a hospitalised grandparent) or pray more generally for people you know. It can also be a way for your child to process their thoughts about a situation, such as an absent parent. This is a great way for pre-verbal children to join in with the prayer. If we’re going to weave prayer into the whole of life, then why not into prayer?
If you’re interested in a great resource for stimulating play at home, this episode of the Raising Playful Tots podcast goes into how to help your child get into small world play if they don’t naturally just start with it. The whole website is an awesome resource full stop. Do go look!
Praise can help us get a handle on God’s character and, if your child is into rocks, flowers, creepy crawlies or the like, you can thank God for each one as you go. “Thank you God for these beautiful pebbles and all the awesome things you make!” “Thank you for making little things like ladybirds and big things like mountains.”
Prayer can come very naturally to some children but others may wonder what on earth it is. Weaving prayer into your family’s life – grace before meals, praying as you set out on a long journey, praying as a family before the day kicks off, – can make it seem a natural thing to do, just as your child learns that cleaning your teeth is a normal part of the day. They love to mimic.
My morning quiet time, (something that only occurred once my youngest was almost two), often includes a little boy. We wrap a blanket around ourselves and I get on adn pray out loud, keeping my language simple. Although he sometimes interrupts to ask questions, it actually keeps me pretty focussed and he learns about the kind of things I bring to God, from praise to petition.
Physically representing prayer can be helpful or a prayer prop can aid concentration. For a while we gathered our family under a “prayer blanket” in the mornings to pray or wrapped each person we were praying for in the blanket.
One family we knew had a prayer panda teddy who they held while they prayed.Sometimes Prayer Panda would whisper encouragement such as “Father God was really happy to see you this morning. He loves hearing your voice”. It got more attention than Mummy or Daddy simply saying that.
Your tradition may include focus points for prayer anyway such as icons, candle, beads or even smells. What a wonderful, tangible way in for your children to that inner focus.
This can be a very easy way in for children to pray. Many parents will naturally sing to their children during the day anyway and finding simple praise songs can be a great addition to your repertoire. What a joy when they are first lisped imperfectly back!
My Mum used to sing a song called “Jesus, Jesus loves X” on loop, adding in different family members and people we knew. Pigwig used to sing this to herself and we would hear her singing about different little friends over the baby monitor, often naming a child who had fallen over at play group that day or a child who had been upset. She frequently prayed about children we hadn’t seen in a few weeks and, surprisingly often, we would then learn the next day on social media or via a phone call that that child had been particularly ill or had faced another unusual challenge. She also prayed for her favourite toys, bringing all the loved aspects of her world to God.
When my daughter was still feeding for hours a day, I read Stormie O’Martian’s classic “The Power of a praying parent”. It included ideas for praying about things I had never thought to pray for: my children’s levels of fear, their willingness to look after their health responsibly, their strength of character and many other issues, some well into their futures.
Parenting is such a physical job, isn’t it? So there are lots of opportunities to pray for our children using the gift of touch. As I get my toddler dressed I pray for his eyes, that they would search for truth and see the good in others, for his arms, that they would grow strong and work for good and be open to embrace the unlovable, for his legs, that they would always be willing to go where God asks them to. I pray for his physical health too, body part by body part, or just say “Look at these precious hands. Thank you God for these lovely, healthy hands. I wonder what God will make you good at? Maybe you’ll play music to praise Him or care for other people like a doctor or nurse. Father God bless these hands!” and so on.
I’m sure you have come up with your own ways of praying with your small child. Do share your ideas here to bless others reading. We all have our moments of inspiration but tiredness can kill creativity, so share yours!