Michael and I have prayed with our children since our first and second were very little. We started out singing and praying over our babies as we put them to bed, and slowly moved to a more formal prayer time with the children. We felt silly for a while, having “family prayer” with children too young to really participate. I don’t think that you can start too early with family prayer, though, because you can’t start too early with getting into the habit of daily prayer with your spouse–your most important family member–for love of God and in fulfilling a great duty of your vocation to marriage: to help lead your family to Heaven. Starting the habit of family prayer early on helps to establish your vision and day-to-day intentional living for your family. Besides that, I believe that even our littlest ones are soaking up far more than we realize when it comes to God and spirituality.
Family prayer at my house is not always easy for Michael and me, even now. The kids are wiggly, and get distracted easily, or else they’re grouchy and/or tired and/or whiny. I’ll be honest, sometimes family prayer is work! But the work of praying with our kids is God-given, God-supported, God-honoring work. Our hope in the rewards of perseverance and faithfulness–not to mention the grace of God–is what keeps Michael and me going, day-in and day-out.
Are you overwhelmed at the thought of trying to pray as a family? Discouraged? Don’t even know where to start? (Hint: start small!) Here are 15 tips for family prayer that have worked for us, and may work for your sweet family too.
Attach family prayer to existing routines
Sometimes it overwhelms me to think of trying to do one more thing in a day. As parents, we already do and give so much! That’s why attaching family prayer to an activity you’re already doing daily can be so helpful. Here are some examples of what we do or have done in the past:
- Pray in the van on the way to school – We pray a Morning Offering and we offer up intentions and thankfuls on the way to school. We often pick up a little boy in our neighborhood on the way, and he prays with us
- Pray after breakfast – A Morning Offering is also a perfect prayer to pray right after breakfast!
- Pray after lunch – I have fallen out of the habit, but I used to pray the Angelus with the kids right after lunch, before putting them down for naptime
- Pray right before the kids go to bed (or before the littlest ones go to bed) – This is our routine with family prayer right now, since our kids all go to bed at the same time. It’s not ideal, because often everyone is tired and cranky by bedtime (parents included), but it’s the time that works most consistently for us to pray as a family all together.
- Pray after dinner – I know families for whom this time works extremely well. The fact that everybody is already sitting down (and the littlest ones are strapped into high chairs) is the big draw for this idea.
Light a candle
Lighting a candle for family prayer can be magic for little children. There is something about a candle that can really help to elevate the moment of family prayer into something special. Yes, there is always the possibility of some bickering over who gets to blow it out after prayer. And yes, you have to be careful about fire with grabby little hands and babies around. But get creative about overcoming those potential obstacles before you nix this idea altogether. (Hint: a rotating schedule or behavior-based reward can be helpful.)
“Those who sing pray twice”
I remember my elementary school music teacher had a big poster in her classroom with the phrase, “He who sings prays twice.” (I’ve since learned that St. Augustine is often credited with saying this). Singing a short spiritual song can be a beautiful way to pray with your kids in many situations.
There are some nights that the kids are wild and Michael and I are exhausted and marching through our usual family prayer routine is the last thing we have energy to do. So sometimes, for family prayer we just sing. We do the Sign of the Cross, and then each child gets to pick their favorite spiritual song. I usually lead on the singing. And don’t be afraid to have fun with it! What a beautiful way to give your kids a glimpse of the joy of the Lord by sometimes throwing in some songs with hand motions or fun lyrics. (Ever watched a two-year-old try her hands at the hand motions for “Trading My Sorrows” or “This Little Light of Mine”?).
Here are my family’s current favorite songs for family prayer:
Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow
Lord, I Lift Your Name on High
Jesus, My Lord, My God, My All
O Come, O Come Emmanuel (for Advent season)
Alleluia (for the Easter season)
Shepherd Me, O God (for Lent)
I’m In-right, Outright, Up-right, Downright Happy All the Time
I Love You Lord
Trading My Sorrows
Taste and See
Jesus Loves Me This I Know
This Little Light of Mine
Grace before Meals
Being consistent about praying with your family can start right at the kitchen table. If your children are very young, start by making them giggle by taking their little hands and doing the Sign of the Cross for them, then hold their hands together in yours while you pray. Praise them lavishly for their efforts as they get better and better. Be consistent about praying before meals in your home and even out and about, and stay sweetly on top of children who rush through the blessing or get into the habit of taking a few bites before prayer.
Thankfuls, Intentions, and Sorries
During family prayer at night, we go around and share one prayer intention, one thing we are thankful for that day, and one thing we want Jesus to help us do better the next day. This is one of those family prayer practices than can be painstaking to get through sometimes (alright, a lot of times). But it is such a great way to really get kids engaged in family prayer, and especially a great time for parents and older children to model sincerity and reverence.
I’ll never forget the first time that my then five-year-old son shared that he wanted Jesus to help him have better self-control at school so that he wouldn’t distract his teacher so much. I had been struggling with wondering why he wasn’t “getting it,” why he didn’t seem to have much empathy and understanding of his behavior’s effects on others. I had been trying to talk about the virtues a lot at home, calling them by their names, and giving examples during little teaching moments of the day of how each child had shown virtue or could have chosen the way of virtue in a specific way.
It was such a wonderful, affirming moment during family prayer that night to see this baby step of growth in my son. I felt like the Holy Spirit was telling me, “You’re doing okay, my love. It’s all doing something, these hundreds of words and corrections you are putting into the children I’ve given you. And don’t forget–I’ve been working on him too.”
Mix it up
Doing the exact same thing for family prayer every day can get boring or even become a little inauthentic at times. Don’t be afraid to mix it up.
Sometimes at my house, we pray an Our Father, a Hail Mary, and a Glory Be, and that’s it. On a better day, we do that plus the thankfuls-intentions-sorries, and/or a decade of the Rosary. And if it’s really, really late, and we’re all exhausted, Michael and I will simply sing “Immaculate Mary” over and over as we carry each sleepy child to bed, and give them a blessing and a hug as we tuck the covers around them. Other times, we like to have a little fun, and we’ll throw in a fun praise and worship song (or just play a family favorite on our phone).
It’s OK to have family prayer change a little bit depending on your day, or your season of life, or external events that make your home life more or less stressful or busy for some reason. Don’t be so extreme that your rigid family prayer routine becomes a chore that everyone glosses over so they can be done with the day.
Read a Bible story, Scripture, or devotional
Depending on how old your children are, reading from the Bible or from a family devotional each day may be a great idea. We have lots of little Bible story books, and occasionally we read a Bible story during family prayer and talk about it for a couple of minutes afterwards. We also have a sweet children’s devotional book that I read from occasionally.
Right now, for us the kids get too wiggly when I try to read a story or Bible devotional for family prayer. You just have to see what seems to work for your particular family and season of life. One success that I’ve had with getting Scripture into family prayer has been reading the mass readings out loud on the way to mass on Sunday. The kids will even remind me to do it if I forget! I usually try to choose one of the readings and chat about it for a minute with the kids, and we always finish by letting everyone offer an intention for mass.
If traditional Scripture reading with your family isn’t a great fit right now, look for more creative ways to put Scripture into you and your family’s life. And don’t worry if it takes a little while to find something that sticks!
Start a tradition
Family traditions involving prayer, and especially involving the Liturgical Calendar, can be absolutely awesome for your family.
Start with a major liturgical season–Advent or Easter–and choose one special prayer tradition to start with your family this year. You will be amazed at how quickly children will start to own family traditions, how quickly they will hold you accountable to keeping up with it. There are tons of wonderful ideas and websites out there for Catholic family prayer traditions surrounding the liturgical year. Catholic Icing and Carrots for Michaelmas are both fantastic blogs I’ve used myself to find ideas of what might work for my family.
Here’s an extra tip for this tip though: It took until my oldest children were five and four before they started to really own our Advent and Easter traditions. Other friends of mine have told me that their children seemed to take to certain traditions at younger ages. My point is that it may take a couple of years if you have very little children before you feel like any of it really becomes a part of your family culture. And that’s OK.:)
Rote prayers like the Our Father, the Hail Mary, the Glory Be, the St. Michael the Archangel Prayer, the Prayer to My Guardian Angel, the Memorare, and others, are all wonderful treasures for our Church. Often, rote prayers can teach us how to pray, and can remind of us of the trust, praise, and honor due to God. There are so many good reasons to make rote prayers a regular part of your family prayer time. While praying spontaneously is also very importantly in teaching your children how to pray, don’t feel like you’re giving your children less by teaching them the many beautiful prayers of the Church during family prayer. In fact, you’re giving them an incredible gift–memorized words of praise, joy, suffering, trust and hope that will come to their minds all their lives when they need them.
Morning Offering is my very favorite time of family prayer. True, usually it’s just me and the kids praying Morning Offering because my husband is at work, but it’s my favorite prayer time nonetheless. There are many different versions of Morning Offerings, or you can even write your own. Here is the one that we pray in my family. It’s actually two different Morning Offering prayers that we pray one after the other:
Good morning, dear Jesus, this day is for you. We ask that you bless all we think, say, and do. (You can do this part with hand motions, pointing first to the head and then the mouth, and then laying down your hands palms-up in a gesture of offering.)
O my Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, we offer you all the prayers, works, joys and sufferings of this day. Jesus, we trust in You. Please be our comfort and the King of our hearts.
Pray in the car
This is one of my best “starter” tips for family prayer, especially if your children are young. Having everybody strapped into car seats can be a gamechanger. We usually do our Morning Offering in the van, and we also pray for homeless people we see and (the kids never forget to remind me about this one!) for ambulances that pass us on the road.
Here is the prayer that we pray when we see an ambulance:
Hail Mary, full of grace, to the suffering please make haste! Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on them!
Let them lead
Our Domestic Church “homework” a few months ago was to encourage or start a family devotion to Our Lady. We knew that an all-out daily rosary as a family was not going to happen at the time, so we started praying just a decade of the Rosary during family prayer at night. We would go through an entire Rosary in a week, explaining the story behind the mystery of the day and briefly talking about it before we prayed. Michael and I were surprised that all three kids–down to the two-year-old!–went nuts for “leading” the Rosary and still do.
It really shouldn’t have been as much a surprise to me, though. In our Morning Offering on the way to school each day, the kids have been “leading” thankfuls and intentions for a while now. (There’s often some competition over who gets to lead which thing, actually.)
I have found that children also love to participate in prayer by being given jobs to do, from blowing out the candle to fetching everyone a Rosary to putting away any special prayer items the family may use during prayer (we sometimes let the children hold a special religious item, like a statue, a holy card, a book, or a cross).
Rub their backs
This tip is gold. Being touchy-feely with your kids can be magic in helping them to relax and look forward to family prayer (or even mass!). Let your kids sit right beside you or in your lap. Rub their heads or their back while you pray.
I think it’s important to be genuine and honest when you’re praying with your children. When we go around and share what we are sorry for that day, I often share something like, “I’m sorry for being so impatient with the girls this morning. I pray that Jesus would help me to have more patience and self-control so that I can be a good mother to them.”
I want my kids to see me growing in grace all their lives. I want them to live with a mature, humble, real adult Christian who isn’t perfect, but is slowly and intentionally growing in holiness by the grace of God, right before their eyes.
Don’t get discouraged
Have you tried praying with your family and were discouraged at how wiggly or disinterested the kids were? Do you have little bitty children who can’t seem to sit still for five seconds at a time? Do you have older children who scowl and roll their eyes the entire time? Does praying as a family seem overwhelming because of other special circumstances, such as an apathetic spouse or a too-busy schedule?
Let’s not let ourselves become discouraged, though. First of all, discouragement is never from God. Secondly, God didn’t make any mistakes giving you the children He gave you. The woman or man he created you to be is the perfect parent for your children, and He is constantly working on your heart to become that woman or man. The way we let Him work on us is to be self-aware and honest about those selfish, sinful habits or strongholds in our hearts that prevent His grace from working as fully as it should. Leading our children to Heaven must always require working on ourselves, first and always.
I always go back to Matthew 7:9, which says, “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone?” If we are constantly going to God, asking Him for help, and persevering in those things He asks us to do as best we can, He is going to help us. If any decent human father would give his son food if he asked for food, the God I love will give me grace to lead my children to Heaven if I ask Him for it.
So keep on keeping on with family prayer. Know that your own set of challenges with praying with your family are the same ones that many other faithful parents are dealing with. Consistency, perseverance, and trust count for so much in God’s eyes. Your desire to lead your family to Heaven is so pleasing to Him. Do your best, and let Him do the rest.
Good luck and may God bless you and your family abundantly!