A few nights ago, I asked my sons to set up a prayer focus for our family prayer time. They used everything in our little box of sacramentals and my oldest decided he wanted to hold onto the little Mary statue. In the lead up to and throughout the entire prayer time I noticed him hugging and kissing her and quietly saying many Hail Mary’s. He remembered that a while back I told him each time we say a Hail Mary it’s like giving Our Lady a rose, so he told me proudly at bedtime “Mummy, I gave Mary 14 roses tonight!”
The next day he asked me at dinner whether he could keep that little Mary statue. Being a five-year-old I assumed he would leave the statue lying around and eventually lose it so my immediate adult response was “No, we have to keep it carefully in the box.” His little face fell and at that moment I realised I was wrong. I quickly changed my mind and talked to him about sacramentals and that he would have to take special care of his Mary. His face lit up and he promised he would, along with giving her many ‘roses’.
Well, he did not disappoint. That night, I kid you not, we discussed many aspects of theology and his personal prayer life for around about an hour. He selected his Bible for the bedtime story telling me that Mary led him to choose this book. I have been on Cloud 9 these past few days watching how this one little decision to give him a statue has led to a multitude of beautiful moments in my son’s faith life. The profound yet simple questions about the faith, asking me to teach him about various parts of the Mass, many spontaneous Hail Mary’s, and so much more.
As beautiful as all these moments were, I was left feeling saddened at the thought of sending my little ones out into a world that is so cruel and hostile towards Christians. The innocence and openness they have towards the faith at this early age is so precious and should be protected. But we can’t always be there to protect them, so it is an important responsibility we have as parents to prepare them for the journey that lies ahead.
Prayer is a great place to start. I’m sure you can agree the key to any good relationship is communication - so helping them establish a good prayer life is essential for their faith formation.
“For prayer is nothing else than being on terms of friendship with God.” - St Teresa of Avila
Let’s take a look at some ways we as parents can help our children with prayer.
1. Pray Together
One thing which was always drilled into me as a kid was to start and end the day with prayer. My mum made up a rote prayer for me to say which covered all the bases and honestly when I’m stretched for time it’s something that I still rattle off to this day. I’ve even taught it to my own kids. What made it special for me is that I remember my mum sitting at my bedside in the morning and at bedtime, saying it with me every single day. That kind of lifetime habit is very difficult to break.
We have our own traditions in our family now. With multiple children and different sleep routines to contend with, I find the best time for me to pray with my children is when we are all naturally together. At the breakfast table, on the car ride to school, and having our family prayer time after the bedtime story. Your day may look different to mine so I encourage you to think about when you could naturally fit some prayer into your children’s daily routine.
2. Become Friends With the Saints
Our family loves the saints! We have a few special Saints for our family with whom we are particularly close and regularly ask for their intercession. We also love celebrating Saints feast days throughout the year and use these days as an opportunity to get to know more Saints.
The Saints are our older brothers and sisters in the family of God. If children know they have powerful allies in Heaven who they can call on, this is a great tool in their toolkit for them as they go through life.
We have started a tradition on New Year’s Day each year of picking a Saint for each person in the family for the year ahead. We get to know them, celebrate their feast days and ask for their intercession every night during family prayers.
A great one for boys is St Michael of course. I’m constantly overhearing our boys playing St Michael as they dress up in costume, wielding swords and shouting “St Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle!”
Other ideas include listening to the ‘Saints Stories for Kids’ podcast learning about their name saints, dress-ups for All Saints Day, and talking about the patronages of various saints when we have a particular need. Our kids always know it’s St Anthony they can call on if they are missing a favourite toy!
3. Liturgical Living
When I discovered liturgical living it completely changed the faith life in our family for the better! You may have caught Kendra Tierney's talk at Evangelion’s ‘In His Name’ conference last year - well it was her book that inspired me to enter into this way of life in our household.
The kids love having tactile activities and themed meals which bring the feast days we celebrate to life. They have learnt so much about the faith through liturgical living and have even clung onto some favourite special devotions they have been introduced to such as their special love for the Divine Mercy.
4. Use Props
Kids are visual and tactile. I am so grateful for what a sensory experience the Mass is. The coloured vestments, candles, statues, images, the smell of incense, beautiful music, the bells, holy water to bless ourselves, the postures - all culminating in the glorious taste of the communion meal.
As the domestic Church, we can use some of these things to help our children to partake in prayer. It could be as simple as holding a crucifix or prayer cards during prayer time, allowing them to bless each other with holy water, helping them take turns to (safely) light the candles and blow them out at the end.
We also love to have our home filled with Catholic art, to lead us into moments of prayer and reflection. If you have a Smart TV why not change the image to reflect the feast day? Letting our kids see the faith can be a powerful tool and, from experience, an opening for many questions and fruitful discussions.
“Humanity in every age, and even today, looks to works of art to shed light upon its path and its destiny.” - Pope St John Paul II (Letter to Artists)
5. Be an Example and Make it Natural
While it may be difficult getting kids to do what you tell them to, you will find they are quick to mimic your actions.
Make a habit of praying during the day. Incorporate it organically into whatever you’re doing and invite them to join in. Grace before meals is an easy one. Setting daily recurring alarms for prayer like the Angelus at 12pm or the Divine Mercy at 3pm and doing them when you can with the kids. Another thing I like to do is if one of us gets hurt or we hear of a friend with a particular prayer intention, we stop what we are doing and say a short prayer for that person.
We have also made a conscious effort to set the example of attending Confession on a regular basis. The kids look forward to our Saturday mornings where we have the Church pretty much to ourselves and it’s a great opportunity to encourage a little adoration before the tabernacle.
“It is essential that children see that, for their parents, prayer is something truly important. Hence moments of family prayer and acts of devotion can be more powerful for evangelization than any catechism class or sermon” - Amoris Laetitia (288)