Paying attention to your child’s prayer triggers can help keep a devotion going. (Submitted photo)
As many children return to school, it is a natural time to evaluate routines and the perfect time to consider how to center your family life around prayer.
As our children’s first Catechists, we are called to model an active prayer life for our children, and I reached out to some veteran mothers for their wisdom on praying throughout the day with their children.
Use triggers for spontaneous prayer
“Pray with me,” a practical guide for parents written by Christ King principal Grace Mazza Urbanski, suggests seven simple ways to pray with your children. In the first chapter, on praying spontaneously, Urbanski recommends using “prayer triggers” to help children develop the instinct to pray. A few of these were part of my earliest formation — praying for those in need when you hear a siren and making the Sign of the Cross upon passing a parish. Now, to make it more visible to our kids, we add a quick shout of “I Love you, Jesus.”
Identifying the “triggers” you can use with your kids to call them to prayer can help you weave prayer throughout your day — and theirs. When she was about 3, I realized that my daughter always felt called to pray whenever she passed a statue of Our Mother, asking if she could stop and “talk to Mama Mary,” so I started leaving a few minutes extra before school so she could visit on her way in. Three years later, my now-first grader has a genuine devotion to Mary. I didn’t spark the devotion, but I’m grateful I managed not to squash it with my near-obsession with being on time everywhere I go.
Use scripture, books, songs and memorized prayers
One of the beautiful things about Catholicism is that when words fail us, we have an entire compendium of works to fall back on. When words fail me, I fall back on the prayers I learned in my youth. Something about not having to think of the words allows my head to get out of my heart’s way. The rosary can be an incredible meditative prayer, but many times a full five decades is too long for my kids, so we break it into a decade at a time. Sometimes, if I’m honest, we break it into a prayer at a time. A kitchen rosary — similar to an abacus — helps us keep track throughout the day.
Praying through scripture — whether through an organized practice like the Lectio Divina or simply letting your family sit with God’s word — can allow the Holy Spirit to speak in ways we never expected. Though silence is in short supply in our house, reflection time is something we want to work on this year.
Incorporate regular prayer times and intentions
“We do a decade of the rosary as a family before bed. We pray for deceased relatives (dad has a spreadsheet). Then we do a Hail Mary for a special intention (kids are in rotation to choose) and a Hail Mary for our godchildren and one for our godparents.” – Katy C.
“We pray on the way to school every morning — a combination of memorized prayers and personal intentions and for deceased friends and family members, as well as the Fatima prayer. We begin with a sung morning offering prayer that we have done since they were little. I have tried to switch to a spoken morning offering as they get older, but they really love the sung version. We pray with all meals and when we see someone in need or peril during the day. Then we gather at night before bed to pray.” – Laine S.
“We definitely use the drive to school for our morning offering, Guardian Angel prayer, St. Michael prayer and a Memorare for the person in the world who needs it most. We like to have a Sunday fun day and then settle down for the night with a family rosary. During the school year, we generally get back into a good confession groove, either with the kids going at school or Saturday morning/afternoon time.” – Krissy A.
“My husband prays with the kids on the drive to school. We always say prayers at meal time, and our evening family prayer is the Divine Mercy Chaplet. Even the 5-year-old takes a decade. Then we ask the kids what they are thankful for.” – Alexandria K.
Don’t forget Mass
The Mass is our most important prayer as Catholics. The Church tells us that celebrating the Mass is the “source and summit” of our Christian life. It is there where we receive Jesus Truly Present and are given strength for our journey through the week. Even if your Mass attendance has not fully recovered from the pandemic, the beginning of a new academic year can be the perfect time to (re)start the habit. Bringing children to Our Lord is an essential part of their formation, even if they can’t contain their wiggles and their attention spans are short.
No matter how you pray, remember that the desire to pray is in itself a good thing. As Thomas Merton once said, “I believe that the desire to please you [God] does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.” In a homily once, Fr. Andrew Linn shared one of the simplest and yet most complete prayers I have ever heard. Though I may have gotten the order wrong, it has always stayed with me. “I love you. Thank you. I’m sorry. Help me.” We can always expand from there, but we’re off to a good start if we are saying these four things to Jesus.