Our family recently took a trip to visit family members that live several states away. Part of this trip involved overnights with friends as we slowly made our way up the coast. Our friends have children of varying ages, ranging from infants to elementary school-aged. While we stayed with our friends and their kids, I was able to glimpse their family prayer lives, and it left me feeling both awed and just a tad ashamed. Don’t get me wrong- we pray as a family, but there was a depth in those houses that I could never have envisioned for my own family. And yet none of their traditions were difficult; I’d just never thought of them. They were all simple, beautiful, and so perfect for the typical modern family.
If you’d like to develop a more robust, deeper prayer life for your family, consider these 10 creative tips and suggestions.
1. Keep your family prayer time to a reasonable length, which is probably just a tad longer than what you feel comfortable with.
Back when I was a youth minister, I began our youth group meetings with a few moments of silent prayer. At the beginning of the year, I’d begin with about two minutes, which translated as a minute and 45 seconds of true silence and 15 seconds of mild fidgeting. With each meeting, the moments of silent prayer became slightly longer as the teens’ capacity for silence grew. If you’re laying the foundations for a solid family prayer life, don’t be afraid to start small. Five minutes of prayer is better than none. You can lengthen that time as the kids (and you) become more comfortable with it.
2. Use the ACTS model for leading your kids in prayer.
When I take my kids to Mass, I use the last five minutes that we’re in the car to remind them about proper behavior for church, which includes time for silent prayer in our pew. When I give them ideas for things to pray about, I use the ACTS model: Adoration, Contrition, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. I tell my kids that they can (1) tell God how they love Him, (2) tell Him what they are sorry for, (3) tell Him what they are thankful for, and (4) ask God for anything they need. Once we’re settled in our pew, but before Mass has begun, the kids and I run through the four types of prayer silently.
3. Create a family prayer space.
A few months ago, my husband and I rearranged our living room to turn one corner into our prayer space. We set up a small altar decorated with statues of our favorite saints. Now we gather in that space each morning and night to pray as a family, and the kids and I gather there sporadically throughout the day to pray our daily Rosary and Divine Mercy Chaplet when we’re home, to read and reflect on the Scriptures, and to learn the Catechism.
4. Introduce your kids to some of your favorite prayers.
As my kids have gotten older, I have introduced them to some of my favorite prayers, and now I say them with my children rather than by myself. For me, these prayers were the Angelus, the Morning Offering I learned when I was in high school, and the traditional Three Hail Marys before bed of the Salesians of St. John Bosco. Choose one prayer that you really like to pray, and then teach it to your children. Once they’ve gotten the hang of that one, teach them another.
5. Provide your kids with tangible objects to pray with.
When we are home for our family Rosary, the kids have large wooden beads stored in our prayer space that they use. Even though my daughter, who is only three, doesn’t use them to count out her Hail Marys, she still enjoys holding them like her parents and older brother do. In addition, we have a set of Rosary cards which have images of each mystery, as well as a brief Scripture or Catechism passage to reflect on. We also use statues and crucifixes to help our children focus as we pray together.
6. Find the times during your day that are most conducive to family prayer.
One of the hardest parts of maintaining a family prayer life is getting it started and remembering to keep it going. It’s easiest to include prayer at times of key transitions. Personally, the kids and I pray every morning as soon as everyone is up and dressed, before we begin schoolwork for the day, before all meals, after quiet/nap time in the afternoon, and in the evenings before bed. Those times have all naturally lent themselves to prayer because they are mostly times we would have been gathering anyway- to watch TV, share a meal, do schoolwork, or say goodnight before bed. Once you’ve figured your prayer time into your daily routine, it’s much easier to maintain it.
7. Celebrate your kids’ (and your own) Baptismal anniversaries and name days.
Each family member has three days a year that are all about them: their birthday, their Baptismal anniversary, and their name day. Their birthday is the largest celebration, with a traditional birthday party, presents, cake, and dinner out at a restaurant with extended family, but we also go out of our way to celebrate their Baptisms and name days. For Baptismal anniversaries, the celebrated person chooses the meal and the dessert for the day, renews their Baptismal promises, and receives a religious gift from the family. On name days, the person gets to choose dinner and dessert, and we take some time to learn about the saints we are all named for.
8. Provide your kids with good literature.
As I just mentioned, Andrew and I give the kids religious gifts on the anniversaries of their Baptisms. This usually includes a book, so as time passes, we’ve been building a pretty nice library of religiously-themed books for the kids to read. It’s amazing how often the kids choose to read their Bibles and saint books without any prompting from me.
9. Talk about your own faith with your children.
One of the best indicators of whether or not children will continue to practice the faith of their parents is whether or not that faith was discussed in a real way together as a family. Parents should feel comfortable talking about the faith, and their own prayer lives, with their children. That way, your children can see that living out the faith is normal and something to be valued and admired.
10. Use your time in the car wisely.
I don’t know about you, but I spend a lot of time in the car with my kids. Sometimes we just listen to music, but I also try to make sure that before we put on the local country station, we’ve prayed together first. This might mean doing our family Rosary or Divine Mercy Chaplet, or else we have a few Catholic podcasts we like to listen to. If you’re a fan of podcasts, check out Saint Stories for Kids and Catholic Sprouts if you’re looking for something to listen to with your small children.