Husband & Wife Articles


 

Teach Your Kids to Pray

Small steps for keeping prayer in their lives

By David Dziena

“As long as there are tests, there will be prayer in public schools.”

This humorous bumper sticker quote reminds us that prayer can and should be a natural part of a child’s life, whether he or she goes to public or Catholic school. Now more than ever, there is increasing pressure to remove all references to faith, God, religion, and therefore prayer in public settings.

While some parents enroll their children in a Catholic school as one way to prevent this trend from entering their family life, others make the decision to send their children to public school, for a variety of reasons. Although my four children attend public schools, I have worked hard to incorporate faith and prayer into their daily lives, but it’s not easy. Children by nature need constant reinforcement, and when they see other children and families around them living by values that differ from their own family’s, they may question what they’re taught at home.

After spending most of my life in the Northeast, I have noticed a significant difference in how faith—the Christian faith, in particular—permeates the public schools here in Texas. Unfortunately, when I lived in New York, not many families in my neighborhood went to church every Sunday. In Texas, it’s not a question of whether you go to church, but which church you go to. This widespread practice reduces the intensity of the “why do we have to go to church” complaints often heard from children.

I even have noticed ways the public schools in the Houston area make room for faith. A morning moment of silence is respectfully observed daily. Seasonal concerts, especially near Christmas, incorporate Christian hymns, and not just secular songs such as “Jingle Bells.” Children are not discouraged or dismissed when they pray before meals, talk about God, or write about their faith in journaling or other school assignments. Teachers encourage respect, manners, and following the Golden Rule.

I make a point to thank the teachers and principal each year, especially after the “holiday” concert, when they use true Christmas music. This is my way of letting them know that their respect for faith does not go unnoticed.

Prayer is vital to family life, as Pope Francis often has stressed in his weekly audiences in advance of the World Meeting of Families this month, and the Synod on the Family next month.

“Prayer! Never forget prayer. Never! No one, no one realizes when we pray on the bus, on the road: we pray in the silence of our heart. Let us take advantage of these moments to pray, pray that the Spirit gives us the gift of counsel.” – Pope Francis (General Audience, May 7, 2014)

Whether you are married, a single parent, a grandparent, or a divorced, annulled and recently remarried father such as I am, you can keep your child’s Catholic faith alive during the school year. Here are some suggestions:

  • Hold a prayer celebration at home prior to the first day of school, or catch up with a prayer in the car. Bless your child each morning with holy water as he or she leaves for school.
  • Place a daily prayer in your child’s notebook or locker. Suggest that he or she read this prayer during a moment of silence or when they have quiet time.
  • Encourage your child to say grace before lunch, even if it is prayed silently. Include a handwritten note in your child’s lunch bag that includes a prayer or a quote from a saint.
  • Thank your child’s teacher or principal for including faith-based music or customs in the school.

 

Since my kids go to school from their mother’s home, and I don’t get to see them on a daily basis, I have found alternative ways to stay connected to them in their school life.

One idea I have found helpful is writing a weekly newsletter. In this newsletter, I include a prayer, family history tidbits, a joke or riddle, and a list of the saints or feast days for that particular week. I conclude with a personal note. My children’s teachers have been very helpful in passing these newsletters on to my children. They understand that for me, this is an effective way to stay connected to my kids, be a positive influence, and weave faith into their daily lives.

If faith and prayer are important to you, do what you can to pass it on to your children. No textbook, Catholic school, faith formation program, teacher, or catechist can have as much of an impact as your example.

David Dziena holds an M A. in Pastoral Theology from St. Joseph College in Maine, and has worked in catechetical ministry for over 20 years. He is a contributing writer of Faith Fusion: Knowing, Loving, and Serving Christ in the Catholic Church. He has four children from a previous bond. After receiving an annulment, he was married in the Church last year to Catholic author and editor Gloria Shahin. They live in The Woodlands, Texas.