Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven,’ And he laid his hands on them and went away. – Matthew 19:13-15
Jesus loves children! He wants kids to know Him as much as He wants adults to know and love Him. Children are important to God. The kids I see in therapy when counseling children are so amazing! To hear that they love God and want to please Him is a true testament to their parents.
One of the most frequent issues I see when counseling children is their struggle to manage emotions. They get frustrated or mad easily. They cry a lot. They are aggressive with other children. They have trouble sleeping because of anxiety.
What is one of the most important aspects of the Christian life? Prayer. Praying is what God asks us to do when we are struggling. While most often as adults we know to do this, our kids don’t. They know to pray at meals, at bedtime, and at church, but do they know they can pray to Jesus at any time? Do they know they can pray when they are angry? Usually kids don’t know this!
Often in my first or second session with a child (most often the parents, too) we read a book about praying. This is such an important thing for us as parents and adults to teach our kids. We can model this in times when kids are struggling. Just stop, take a deep breath, and pray. How amazing for our kids to learn to call on Jesus in their early years!
What does praying look like for a child?
First, children should be taught to pray aloud just like at bedtime and meal times. We can help them by acknowledging what emotion they are struggling with at that time. “Sam, I can see you are really mad right now. Let’s pray to Jesus and ask for his help dealing with your anger.
Even if the child refuses (and this does happen because the child is … well, mad), we as their caregiver can show them the prayer. We can fold our hands and say “Jesus, please help Sam right now. He is having a hard time with anger and needs your love and support to help him through. In Jesus name, Amen.
Starting with verbal prayers helps model how to pray. It also shows that praying can happen at any time, in any location, and that Jesus is present in the child’s life always.
Second, children should be taught to pray when they are thankful or grateful for things, too. Most of the time we seek God out when we are struggling, but God also asks us to pray with thanksgiving, too! This is why we pray at meal times, but being thankful is not limited to times we eat. Children have tons of things they can pray for thanksgiving for because we have a joyful and plentiful God! Just as we can show a child how to pray in tough times, we can also show them how to verbally pray in thanksgiving.
Some examples include when they share with other children or when they win a sports game. “Lord, thank you for giving me food I could share with my friends.” “Jesus, thank you for helping my team work together so that we won our soccer game.” Acknowledging God in these moments helps our kids recognize God is with them in the good and bad times. This also helps kids stay grateful for the things in their life and reduces feelings of entitlement.
Third, when a child has an understanding of how prayers work in both times of help and times of thankfulness, they can then practice praying quietly or just with their thoughts. I always suggest this as a step to do after the child has practiced verbal praying. It’s similar to how children learn math. They first get shown on their hands what 1+1 equals. They get shown with other visual items, too. Soon they are proficient and practiced enough that if you ask them what 1+1 equals, they can just tell you without using their hands or writing the equation down on paper.
What Happens When I Talk to God by Stormie Omartian is a great book a child and caregiver can read together that helps explain how a child can talk and pray to God.
“Dear Jesus,” courtesy of David Beale, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Pouting,” courtesy of Andrik Langfield Petrides, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Read and Pray,” courtesy of Aaron Burden, unsplash.com, CC0 License