Three ways to help your child pray in a healthy way

By Dr. Cathleen McGreal

Not long ago, my son Ryan came home from school saying, “This is my lucky day!” He put four quarters in the vending machine and two bottles of soda popped out. The expectation with vending machines is that you put in a designated number of coins, press the button that matches what you want and, presto, a product is there for your enjoyment.


If a child prays to get specific things and then doesn’t get what he wants, he may complain that God isn’t answering his prayers. In other words, he might have a “vending machine” concept of prayer: If I invest so many prayers, God is under obligation to deliver. As parents, you can help your child invoke the name of God in healthier ways by following these three suggestions. But this isn’t just a task for children — our images of God continue to mature throughout life.

First, remind your children that prayer is a conversation, not a bargain. Nothing is too trivial to bring to prayer. We don’t have to worry about “bothering” God with unimportant matters. There is tenderness in God’s relationship with us, as we read in Hosea: “I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her.” (Hosea 2:14)

Second, encourage children to share their feelings with God instead of just presenting God with a list of “wants.”

“Thy will be done.” When Jesus taught us how to pray, we learned to ask that God’s will be done. The problem with the vending machine image of God is we want God to do our will. Prayer isn’t a way to convince God we have a better plan. Instead, through grace and mercy, we seek God’s will even in disappointment 
and sorrow.

Talk to your children about their motivation for prayer. Are they trying to convince God that their way is really the best way?

Finally, help children understand that prayers often are answered in unexpected ways. Although we may pray for specific outcomes, the answer to prayer often happens inside us, not outside in life’s events. As author Franciscan Father Pat McCloskey has said, “God is the fixed point and I am the one who changes.”

Help children explore the different ways prayers can be answered.

James and John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” They wanted to make sure they had their “yes” ahead of time. Jesus overlooked their audacity and simply asked, “What is it you want me to do for you?” (Mark 10:35-37)

Parents can offer comfort when the answer to a request is “no” by asking whether God has ever responded to prayer with consolation or insight.

Take time with your children to share the ways that God has answered prayers in the lives of your family.

 Prayers for the Catholic Child Prayers for the Catholic Child is a tool for parents to teach the essential prayers of the Catholic faith to their children. To order in English or Spanish, contact the Office of Catholic Faith Formation at 800-950-4970 or visit

August 23, 2013