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Prayer-time Battles and 8 Ways to Win Them

Updated: Sep 18, 2021

The sight of a family praying together is beautiful.

It’s uplifting.

It’s wholesome.

It gives one a sense of hope and peace about the future of the Church.

Some might even say that it’s like a tiny glimpse of heaven.

But despite how it may seem to an innocent onlooker, the fact is, sometimes family prayer can feel like an absolute nightmare.

For every child kneeling like an angel, there’s likely to be at least another doing everything and anything but that.

And while the spontaneous gymnastic recitals, concerted duets, or one of the kids jumping up mid-prayer to yell, “I’m Jesus!” can be amusing and even cute at times, for us parents it is often just plain frustrating.

From the time family prayer starts and long before it ends, as parents, we frequently find ourselves speeding through a spectrum of emotions: from patience, to understanding, to annoyance, to visible frustration, and finally—anger.

And much like with anything else in the realm of parenting, addressing prayer time misbehaviour puts us in a difficult position. On the one hand, we can’t allow our children—even those “2 year old terrors”—to wreak havoc during such an important family time and think it's OK to do so; on the other hand, we don’t want to punish them or act in such a way as to discourage our child(ren) from prayer as a whole. The way to address this matter requires great discretion, some forethought, and playing it out in the offense.

In recent weeks, I’ve been noticing many parents asking for bedtime prayer advice on social media. I know that with time, each family would be able to figure out what works best for them so that family prayer could be a pleasant experience. Unfortunately, I see far too many parents give up out of sheer exhaustion at the end of a long day, opting to return to family prayer when the kids are a little bit older and settle down more easily. And I absolutely don’t judge them for thinking this way. Even so, I’m saddened to see it happen because family prayer seldom resumes when the kids get older ...

“The family that prays together, stays together.”

While I won’t pretend to have it all figured out, I do like to offer some suggestions when I can. After some years and much MUCH trial and error, I’ve been consciously tucking away a few of the useful “tricks” and methods that have worked in our home. I’d like to share them with you today and I sincerely hope you’ll find some merit in them as well.

I encourage you to put your own spin on any of these and make them work for your family!

1. Just pray anyway!

Perhaps that’s a bit of a lame “trick” to start with, but it’s the most important thing to remember.

Continue to pray no matter how crazy family prayer time gets. Of course, keep trying to improve it, but don’t stop altogether. To stop would be to admit defeat, and while your child may enjoy this as a personal victory, there’s someone far more sinister who would delight in it exponentially more. You’ll likely have heard Venerable Patrick Peyton’s famous quote before, “The family that prays together, stays together.” He is absolutely right, and there are sadly innumerable proofs of broken families in our world today. So pray, no matter what!

2. Short and simple.

Typically, short and simple prayers work best when little ones are involved. When our kids were little, we would often just pray Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be because that is about as long as we knew they would participate. While repetition can be gruelling for adults, children don’t mind it in the least. They thrive on routine and because they know what to expect, tantrums are less likely to occur. Mind you, sometimes routine must be carried out to the T without the least bit of deviation, including where and next to whom everyone kneels, etc., so be prepared to comply with such requests to keep the peace.

3. Use props.

I would have never thought just how far a prayer candle could go. We’ve rotated between having just one when our kids were being particularly generous towards one another, all the way to a candle per child on less generous occasions. So long as you’ve got the room for them, there’s no harm in each child having their own candle to light and extinguish. Teach your kids to say “Light of Christ” when they light it and blow it out. (I recommend a rotating schedule for that.) Invest in a candle snuffer and you’ve got an extra incentive for the well-behaved tot. If safety is an issue, LED candles are a nice alternative, albeit—let’s face it—a lot less fun. We typically put our lit candles up out of reach and assist the little ones in blowing them out. Also, have your kids ask a priest to bless their candles, making it all the more special for them.

4. Kneel.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with sitting down or standing up to pray. In fact, it wouldn’t be reasonable to expect someone to pray throughout the day only when they had a chance to kneel in order to do so. Still, there’s something about kneeling during prayer that’s different. It’s not common to see paintings of people praying sitting down or lying down. If there were, who could really tell what they were doing? The kneeling posture sets apart this act from everything else we do during the day. When we kneel, it is not only our body that shows our reverence and humility towards God, our attitude likewise adapts because we can’t help but recognize how little and weak we are before our omnipotent Creator—and still, He loves us unto death. And we ought to model this for our children so that they can start learning from a young age the importance of humility and reverence in the life of a Christian. Of course, don’t sweat it too much if the little ones don’t always comply; they’re bound not to at times.

Sometimes, despite our best efforts, prayer time is still chaotic, and it is times like these that often make me wonder whether it's not just a test of Faith for us parents.

5. Roles and responsibilities.

I already touched on this briefly when I mentioned using a candle snuffer with little ones, but coming up with other such roles and responsibilities during prayer time can prove to be a great solution for getting kids engaged and looking forward to family prayer. These are some things we included as the kids got older and our family prayer could safely vary in nature: lighting the candle at the beginning, leading the prayer (if it’s something like a decade or a litany), reading a Bible passage, and sometimes even choosing what we pray that evening. If you have a special prayer corner or table in your house and some devotionals or holy images, preparing these for family prayer could be another role for one of the children. Be creative!

6. Change comes with the seasons.

If you’re not in any danger of transgressing against beloved routines, we’ve found that changing what we pray as a family has helped reengage those who are falling “asleep” during prayer. We don’t typically change things on a daily basis, but we’ve been known to do it every month. Our Faith offers numerous beautiful devotions and it would be a shame not to share them with our children. If you're a musically-inclined family, try singing the prayers, like the Our Father or Hail Mary, or even some Taize!

7. Prayer intentions.

We learned very early on just how special it was for our kids to be able to share what or who they’re praying for—that this is not just a privilege that comes with adulthood. We taught them that their prayers are incredibly powerful and they ought to always pray for something or someone specific. At the beginning of your family prayer time, give each child a turn to share their prayer intention and add your own. Sometimes our kids have prayed for silly things (Jesus is a common one!) so we gently reminded them that their intention can be one of thanksgiving, intercession, petition, or praise TO Jesus.

8. Don’t wait until bedtime.

It seems intuitive to want to wait until the kids are going to bed before you gather together as a family to pray. And while the intention behind this is noble, it often doesn’t work out as we’d like. When we wait until bedtime, we often come too close to it, we already have less patience by the end of the day, and we can be more anxious if we know that our little ones are already tired and we have to tread lightly lest they dissolve into a tantrum. Sometimes we rush things unconsciously in order to avoid a meltdown only to end up causing a disruption to routine that’s eluded everyone but the one who benefits from it the most. I’ve noticed that finding a slightly earlier time can work to your advantage, such as immediately after dinner while everyone is still together. Also, no one said you can't start the day with family prayer! Find a time that works best for your family.

Of course, despite our best intentions and effort, sometimes a child will just not settle down and will disrupt everyone to such a degree that family prayer time is pure chaos. If your 3 year old insists on yelling “Let’s rock!” after the mention of every Saint in the Litany of Saints, don’t sweat it. Sometimes I think these situations are perhaps a test of Faith for us as parents, so just take a deep breath and pray anyway!

P.s. Here are some more suggestions for changing up your family prayers and routines.

Seasonal Family Prayers & Routines
Download PDF • 500KB

May the Peace of Christ be with you,



We believe that Salvation begins in the home, which is why MMH Press is dedicated to helping parents discover the foundations of their motherhood and fatherhood as revealed in God's plan for the family. We seek to inspire Catholic parents to transform their home into a sanctuary of love, to raise their children in the Faith, and together lead a joyful and fulfilling family life.

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