|RAISING CHILDREN WHO CAN PRAY
CHILDREN'S DEVELOPMENTAL STAGES AND DEVELOPMENTALLY
Infancy, 0-2: Children are pre-verbal at this stage, obviously. The great
lesson they learn as infants is whether or not they can trust the world they’ve
been born into. The best lesson is consistent care. When we respond
consistently and lovingly to their needs, our babies learn to trust. This, in turn,
enables them to trust God and others as they grow. Without this trust, faith is
Early Childhood, 2-6: Children are acquiring language at this stage.
Through this, imagination is born. They grasp experience in powerful images.
They tune into the rituals, gestures, and words that adults use. They can be
focused on spiritual things if adults take care to do so. To strengthen this
1. Let them experience religious images, then let them talk with us about those
images when they notice them.
2. Read them picture books based on biblical events and characters. 3. Let
them see us reading our Bibles, for instance, knowing that if it matters to us it
will matter to them too, eventually.
Children also learn through what they do and what we do with them. Make a
point of including faith in your family lives:
•fold hands and pray before meals;
•go to church regularly, so children will assume this is what families do.
•pray before bed time every night.
Elementary Years, 7-12: Children make sense of their world through stories.
They weigh the things adults say, then find explanations based on their own
experiences. They will be exposed to lots of stories – positive and not-so-
positive -- through the culture. Make sure to expose them to the Christian
story, as well.
Continue previous routines. Care for their basic physical and emotional needs.
Pray with them frequently. Attend church. Surround them with images of
faith. Now is the time to add content to their faith:
1. Read stories from a children's Bible to younger elementary kids;
2. Encourage older elementary kids to read those stories for themselves;
3. Have reasonable, Christian, Bible-based videos available to reinforce the
4. Talk about faith when questions arise and seek answers for ourselves when
we need to;
5. Make sure our children don't accept "TV values" blindly, with no Christian
Teen Years, 12-17: Preteens and teens experience the awakening of self-
consciousness. They are very sensitive to the way others, especially peers,
see them. Their self-worth comes from external sources: relationships,
"strokes" or the lack thereof from significant persons, and, yes, how their
parents see them.
When this process begins to happen, the payoff for our earlier work begins.
They already know a God who affirms them and has expectations of them.
They have a peer group of Christian friends to act as a counterweight to non-
Christian forces in the culture around them. They are around Christian adults
(other than their parents) who can answer their questions and be the role
models they need.
At this stage, do the following:
1. Continue practicing your faith;
2. Give teens room to explore, but protect them from their own worst instincts
as best you can;
3. Be clear about your bedrock expectations (integrity, reality, compassion),
but give them room on less important stuff;
4. Remember the old Chinese adage; "Those who do not trust enough, will not
be trusted." Trust teens. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Let them
demonstrate their good sense while still holding them accountable.
5. Be fair, but forgive them too.
6. Be human. You are whether you admit it or not.
7. Be willing to discuss faith issues. If you feel uncomfortable doing that, see
to it that they know trustworthy people who can discuss those issues with
(By the way, during this stage we'll probably learn more about prayer than we
The most important part of teaching children to pray is being people of
John Cunyus is a freelance writer working in North Texas
His work is available at www.johncunyus.com
©2006 John G. Cunyus
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