How to Encourage a Real Prayer Life in Children

Father Darren has put together a list of suggestions for helping encourage a real prayer life in children. He did so in the context of a wonderful post about the home life of Pope Benedict XVI. I am using this list as a weekly examination of my spiritual parenting. I am a far cry from where I want to be but that's why I printed it out. :) I'm posting his excellent list below but please take a moment to read his entire post on Servant and Steward!


  • Children must see in their parents an authentic love of the faith and a desire to be faithful in every aspect of their lives, and in such a discipleship the children must sense the joy that comes from following Christ.
  • Children should see their parents in prayer, both before the tabernacle and at home.  Children learn from imitation.  If they see their parents pray, they, too, will learn to pray.  This means that parents must pray; this has to come first.
  • Set up a family altar, a special table covered with a cloth in a prominent place in the home.  On the table, place a Bible, a book of the saints, a book of prayers, a candle, a statue of a patron saint, a rosary, etc.  On the wall above the table hang a crucifix.  I always like the San Damiano crucifix because it also tells the story of the Lord's Passion and can be used throughout the year as a teaching device.  Use this family altar each day and try to do so at the same time of day.  Build it into the family schedule.  Everything else is secondary; God must come first.  Always.
  • Never water down the faith or the teachings of the Church, especially if they are in high school.  Despite the temptation, never pander the faith to your children.  They can handle it and they can wrestle with it.  Young people today simply want to know the truth; speak it to them plainly.
  • If you have to give a simplistic answer to a question when your child is young (for good reason) be certain to expound that answer as your child grows up.  Do not leave them with a second grade understanding of, say, Holy Communion or Confession when they're 16.
  • If you do not know the answer to your child's question about the faith, do not say, "I don't know; it's a mystery" (unless it genuinely is a mystery, but even then say something about it.  Remember: the Holy Trinity is the only part of Christian faith that cannot be known by reason; in the end, it truly is a mystery.  Everything else can be explained reasonably, even if only in part).  If you don't know the answer, simply say, "That's a great question and I don't know the answer to it, but I'll be glad to find the answer for you."  Consult your catechism, your pastor, a knowledgable friend, and scour the Internet if you have to.  Just find the answer.  And do so as quickly as you can.
  • Always to seek to show not only the beauty and simplicity of the faith, but also the reasonableness of the faith.
  • Study the history of the Church - especially if your children are in high school - to be able to explain what really happened with the Crusades, the Inquisition, Galileo, etc.  Common myths should be debunked.
  • Pray the rosary together at least once a week.
  • Go to confession at least once a month (more often if you need it) and bring with your children with you (to the church, anyway).  Let them see you enter the confessional and return to the pew to offer a prayer of thanksgiving.  Encourage them to go to confession, too.
  • Help your chilren examine their consciences from time to time, and provide them with age-appropriate guides.
  • Give your children a religious book at Christmas, Easter and other major celebrations.
  • Celebrate the day of your children's baptism with more festivity than their birthday.
  • Have a special dinner each year on their "name day," the feast day of the patron saint.
  • Name your children after saints and teach them their stories.
  • Talk about the saint of the day and the daily Mass readings at supper.
  • Talk about the Pope's travels or his Angelus addresses together.
  • Pray the Stations of the Cross together each Friday.
  • Go to Eucharistic adoration together as a family.
  • When running your daily errands, purposefully drive by your church and stop in for a moment of prayer together.  You know, just to say "Hi" to Jesus.
  • Share your faith struggles and questions with your children.  It's good for them to know that you wrestle with the same struggles and questions as they do, but be sure to reinforce your faith in the midst of doubts.  Teach the beauty of the words, "Lord, I believe, help my unbelief."
  • Be sure to show your concern for your children's faith and eternal salvation.
  • Never answer the question, "Why do we have to go to Mass today" saying, "Because I said so."
  • Posted on May 22, 2012 and filed under "parenting", "prayer", "spiritual life".