How to Teach Your Little Saints to Pray

The  practice  of  prayer  is  a  difficult  challenge  for  most adults,  let  alone  children.  It  has  been  my  experience, however,  that  if  the  children  are  brought  up  having  been exposed  to  the  idea  of contemplation,  and  have  been  actively encouraged  to  practice  it,  they  quickly  develop  an  active prayer  life  and  are  better  able  to  pray  as  adults.  Alongside fasting and giving alms, we are encouraged to deepen our prayer-life during the Great Fast. Here are some tips for doing this for the children in your home.

Encourage a prayerful atmosphere in the home

One of the things my children's friends often remark when the visit our home is that it is usually much quieter than they expected for a household of seven people. I have to giggle at that, but it really is true. I try to keep a peaceful and reflective atmosphere as much as I can by keeping the television or radio off most of the time. Peace and quiet makes it much easier to keep a reflective attitude throughout the day that just lends itself willingly to prayer. Not that we don't listen to the television or radio, play the piano, or even sing at a moment's notice once in a while! We do! Its just kept to the proper time and place so as not to become a distraction.

Set  up  a  family  icon  corner

It  is  a  longstanding  tradition  among our people  to  have a  miniature  altar  within  our  domestic  churches  at  which  the family  can  gather  for  prayer,  or  to  which  individual  members can  retreat.  This  can  be  as  simple  or  elaborate  as  you  like.   It may  revolve  around  icons  of  Christ  (on  the  right)  and  His Blessed  Mother  (on  the  left)  as  patterned  after  the  Iconostasis in  the  church.  It  may  include  such  items  as  a  crucifix,  holy water,  a  shelf  for  prayer  books,  blessed  candles,  a  jar  for alms,  hooks  for  chotki  and  rosaries,  and  a  place  to  burn incense. We have always had one of these in our home. In fact, one of my most treasured memories is of my children lining up along the railing of the upstairs balcony which overlooks our foyer, where we have our family icon corner, each evening to say our prayers before bed.

Some  families  have  also set  up  icon  corners  in  each  child’s bedroom  where  they  can  go  any  time  of  day  or  night  to better  focus  on  prayer.  They  may  opt  to  install  a  corner  shelf on  which  they  can  place  the  icon  of  the  child’s  patron  saint,  holy  water  that  they  are  free  to  use whenever  they  wish,  their  own  prayer  beads  and  perhaps  even  a  little  battery  operated  (safe)  candle which can even be used as a night light. Another  idea  may  be  to  dedicate  a  closet  as  a  personal  prayer  chapel.   This  can  either  be  done  for the  family,  or  for  each  child.   A  small  corner  of  a  closet  is  the  perfect  place  for  a  little  one  to  go  to  be alone  with  Jesus!   They  may  have  icons  on  the  wall  of  the  interior  of  the  closet,  at  their  height,  with perhaps  a  small  shelf  to  hold  beads  and  battery  operated  candles,  and  a  basket  of  their  favorite children’s  bible  story  books  or  prayer  books!   A  pillow  and  blanket  will  help  make  it  a  favorite  and cozy place to snuggle up with Jesus and just be. Encourage  your  children  to  take  the  time  to be  alone  in  prayer,  to  look  at  Jesus’  eyes  and  speak  to  Him  from  their  little  hearts  and  He  will  take care of the rest.

Be what you want them to become

One of the most important things you can do for your child's spiritual life is to let them see you pray. When our youngest, twin girls, were about 18 months old, I felt the desire to become an oblate at the local Byzantine monastery. As I began to attend the monthly meetings and receive instruction I learned that I was expected to say both Matins and Vespers daily and keep at least 30 minutes daily in contemplative the mom of five children under 10 years of age, this was no easy task, even if I do like to pray! I began by carving out a bit of time at around 10 am to say Matins. I got the little ones dressed, fed, and occupied with a toy or game and then would sneak off to the living room to open my book and begin. One by one, the children would quietly come into the room and stare. I would put up a finger to let them know that I was speaking to God. They knew this signal well, and understood that they should wait respectfully for me to acknowledge them and then then they could ask whatever question they had. Usually they had no question, just curiosity. They just wanted to curl up next to me while I prayed. It literally stunned me that they were so good! Often they would ask to assist me by saying things like "Amen", or "Lord, have mercy" at the appropriate time. I marveled at how respectful and happy they were to pray with me! Even the babies grew so quiet and peaceful then. Its as if they knew we were all in the presence of God! Soon afterward I began to notice them looking through their little picture-bible story books on their own, in the same spot on the couch, "saying their prayers" during the day. It is so good to let them know HOW to joyfully immerse themselves in prayer, to let them feel the presence of God and know His love for us, and actively witness our love for Him, in our own homes, while they are still small. It sets the tone and paves the way for the cultivation of an entire lifetime of prayer in their own hearts, and in the hearts of future generations of Christians to come.

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