You don’t need to wait for your children to talk to begin teaching them how to pray.
This article is excerpted from 77 Ways to Pray with Your Kids.
You don’t need to wait for your children to talk to begin teaching them how to pray. In fact, you can begin right away, in those first magical moments after your child is born and in the days and weeks that follow, by using the ordinary tasks of caring for your baby (diaper changes, feedings, and so on) as prompts to prayer.
Admittedly, praying with your baby is an indirect way to teach him or her how to pray. On the other hand, infants and toddlers are great imitators, and more tuned in to their parents than at any other time in their lives. If you make it a habit to pray with your child out loud, with sign language, or even by pausing to adopt a quiet, prayerful attitude, the day will come when you find your child trying to mimic your actions and words.
Even more importantly, when you pray with your baby, you intentionally open yourself to the presence of God—and there is no better place for you and your baby to be.
Laura Kelly Fanucci, the author of the popular Catholic blog Mothering Spirit, has written a beautiful series on praying with your baby. The following suggestions about when and how to pray with your baby are adapted from a few of her ideas:
Feeding. As you feed your child, think of all the good meals you have enjoyed throughout your life, and give thanks. Think in particular about all those who have fed you over the years (parents, grandparents, and others) and give thanks for them. Pray for your child to be fed by God, and to have a generous heart that feeds others, especially those who are most vulnerable.
Cleaning up. As you change diapers or wash your spit-up-stained clothes, ask Mary (who changed a few diapers in her time) to help you care for your child with the same tenderness with which she cared for the baby Jesus.
Waking in the night. The next time you have to wake up in the middle of the night for your baby, remember the monastic practice of waking in the middle of the night to pray the Liturgy of the Hours; make this time your own Liturgy of the Hours. Think of all the other people awake in the night—police and doctors and bakers, people in crisis, and those unable to sleep because of worry or medical problems—and pray for them. Pray in thanksgiving for God, who is always “awake,” watching over us.
Crying. When baby won’t stop crying (or screaming), remember all those around the world crying out for help, or crying in distress. Remember especially the many children whose cries will go unanswered, and offer up your own small burden in prayer for them. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you care for your child lovingly, just as God cares for us in our own distress.
You can find expanded versions of these ideas and many others at Mothering Spirit’s “Spiritual Practices with Newborns“ series.