CLICK HERE to read Part 1 in this series.
Often as Catholics we become familiar with the set prayers involved in the Rosary, the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, the Angelus, and so on. This is a good thing. Our kids will often be able to use these prayers quickly thanks to the habits of praying as a family at home. Yet, our children also need to be able to vocalize their own spontaneous prayers. This will allow them to more easily unite their own internal prayers with those at Mass and those family prayers we build into the routines of our Domestic Church (the home).
How do you teach children to pray spontaneously? It is not as difficult as it may seem. I have witnessed my children leading prayer for RCIA classes, youth group events, emergencies, and on most days of the year (before reaching Middle School). At the time of writing this, I have four children that are ages 4-11. Spontaneous prayer is something each of them is used to in addition to our set prayers and devotions.
The way we do it is by modelling it. When we pray each day, we include a time for petitions. We do it like at Mass: “For X, we pray to the Lord. Lord hear our prayer.” We go in order of oldest to youngest. I go first and the four-year-old goes last. They begin to model their prayers on those that are older than them. All of them around the ages of 4/5 seemed to focus prayers on “Thank you God for…” Then around the age of 5/6 they began to think of petitions like: “Help us to be good today and help us to have a good trip.” I have realized that when they are 4-6 years old, they begin their prayers the same each day but will often alter the ending to something going on (sometimes they do so in a way that is not reverent but silly, but that is why they need to be mentored in prayer habits). Around the age of seven I have noticed our children begin to have very particular prayers of thanksgiving or petition or contrition and sometimes even of praise.
As the person that prays first, I don’t try to make my prayers super lengthy or complicated. I keep them simple and direct. It seems to help the children to notice differences and begin to insert themselves into the examples they witness.
We still have set prayers as a family—the Hail Mary, Saint Michael, Our Father, and Glory Be are daily staples in our devotions—but our family’s daily use of spontaneous prayer has both enhanced our communal prayers and our children’s growing relationship with their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Plus, I find their prayers to be so beautiful!