The Wrong Way To Teach your Four Year Old To Pray

Just recently my son learned the Our Father, Hail Mary and Gloria. I’ve since introduced him to the Rosary. When I was his age or perhaps a little older like 8 – 10 years of age, I didn’t know how to pray the rosary. The Legion of Mary was in my area and they had rented a place and held a rosary for children every week. So we met these girls on the street same age as us who invited us along. We use to call them Holy Joes and we only went along because we thought we might get a kiss off one of the girls. 

It went from bad to worse. I didn’t think about it at the time because I was just a kid but they went about teaching us the rosary the wrong way. Imagine asking a 8 year old whose high on sugary drinks and highland toffee candy to sit still for 20 minutes and just rattle off all those prayers without getting bored? Well that’s what happened. Even adults like myself today find it hard completing the rosary. Eventually our interest dwindled in the rosary simply because it was too long and boring. The mistake they made was in equating a child’s mind with that of an adults and they gave us too much …much too soon. 

Another man in my area was a little more clever. He was a friend of my fathers and word on the street was if you sat and prayed the whole rosary in his living room he’d bring out a plate of assorted biscuits for us to munch on. So the next week we arrived and you could barely get into his living room. That was it, his biscuit trick worked but again interest in the rosary dwindled as 20minutes of praying just wasn’t worth the effort for some biscuits to an eight year old. So whilst his good effort generated interest in biscuits, it didn’t seem to gain much interest the rosary itself. 

My current method isn’t great but I do think it’s worked so far. What I’ve decided to do is to generate excitement in my four year old for the rosary. We had driven out to the monastery and I made it sound like getting his first rosary was a big deal. He’s now a big boy with his own rosary and the Monk will bless it for him. This builds up the excitement makes him feel he’s becoming one of the group one of the real men like his dad. Then when we got home he joined in on creating a special prayer corner and altar at which to pray at. When it was dark we turned out all the lights and lit many candles so that the icons and statues would sparkle in the light, creating a Heavenly atmosphere of the spiritual. Children also love to blow out the candles so it’s important to allow them to do this after the prayer as this gives them something to look forward to at the end. 

But here is the most important part. We only ever pray one decade of the rosary, that is, one our father, ten Hail Marys and the Gloria. It doesn’t matter what age they are when they begin to learn as I believe even adults just learning should do the same. Doing this helps them gradually like the rosary and then moving to two decades when the time is right and three and so on it goes. If you break this rule, you will end up having the child hate prayer and prayer time, when it comes, will appear as a chore as opposed to something they enjoy as part of their daily routine. 

So let’s summarise. Make it exciting, don’t pray the whole rosary just one decade and offer a reward at the end of each session. This reward could be blowing the candles out, their favourite snack or trip to their favourite cinema at the weekend. Some final tips I have is turn off all electronic devices such as video games and television programs one hour before prayer because computers and Tv stimulate the brain preventing it from being relaxed. Do prayer before they go to bed as the prayer makes them quiet and relaxed, this peaceful state helps them sleep and if you’ve trouble getting them to sleep there’s your answer. If you have a child who is often distracted at mass the rosary at home disciplines them to sit still for five minutes. This 5 minute quiet time every evening will train them to sit still at Mass as they will eventually associate anything to do with Mary and Jesus with quiet time and reflection. 

Take your time with children, try to lean down and look at the world how they see the world thinking as they do so as to better understand their needs. If we do this teaching them prayer becomes more of a delight than a chore for both parent and child. 

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