The boy was only six years old, but old enough to be embarrassed by the tears that kept coming to his eyes. Embarrassed too that he stayed so close to his mother, while all the other children played on the playground. The family was new in the valley, and the school was a long bus ride from their home.
His mother had accompanied him on this first day, but he knew that she must soon leave. He clung to her hand as she led him into the empty school building and closed the door to one of the rooms. She put her arm around him and asked, “Shall we ask Heavenly Father to help you today?” He nodded, and she quietly asked a blessing of the Lord upon her son. She prayed that he might enjoy the day, that he would find friends, and that he would be alert and receptive so he could learn. Just a few words, but the tears stopped. When they left the building he released her hand.
This quiet moment served the purpose of providing strength and comfort for the boy, but it also provided the means for the learning of some important lessons. The child learned that his mother cared enough for him to feel what he was feeling. He also learned that one has a recourse when there seems to be no place to turn for help. At a young age he experienced the strength of turning to the Lord when the problem is too big to handle.
Prayer can be one of the most effective ways of teaching children many of the concepts that parents desire to have their children learn. Parents often overlook this great tool for teaching, perhaps because it is more difficult to pray sincerely than to speak the words almost by rote and without forethought. One must know his child well to pray vocally for him and about his needs, and this takes silent prayer and meditation.
Children do need experience in praying aloud, and family prayer is the perfect time for each child in turn to express the thankfulness and the needs of the family group. In some large families, however, this might limit the opportunities for Father and Mother to express the feelings of their hearts and set an example of prayer for their children. Perhaps the time could be weighted on the side of the parents, that they may have ample time to teach their children through prayer.
One warning: children detect falseness even more quickly than others, so do not just pray words, but wait for the promptings of the Spirit. One can feel this Spirit descend upon the family as they kneel together in the accustomed place and address their Heavenly Father. Children will accept advice and counsel offered at this time that they might spurn in any other context. This is the time for parents to bear testimony to their children, not just for “all thy many blessings” but for a specific principle or blessing.
One family knelt in prayer soon after hearing the news of the death of President Joseph Fielding Smith. The father expressed thankfulness for having lived during the ministry of that great prophet. He then thanked the Lord for all the prophets who have lived, and especially for President Harold B. Lee. He prayed that his children might become acquainted with the new prophet and study his teachings. “Bless these fine children, Father,” he prayed, “that they might follow those who follow the prophet and never do anything that President Lee would not do.”
If the full attention of children to family prayers is desired, try mentioning them by name in the prayers. Mother might express thanks that Mary has been so helpful that day and that she is developing her skills in the home. Mention might be made of the problems a particular child is facing, but always in a positive way: “Father, we know that John is making a real effort to control his temper. We are grateful to see him growing and for thy help and support of our son. Please continue to bless him, and to bless us that we might not provoke him to anger but instead express our love and willingness to help him.”
Parents might offer prayers in which they express their righteous desires for their children. The Lord might be asked that the Spirit will prompt the children with a desire to study the scriptures, to prepare for missions and temple marriages, and to have the strength to overcome the temptations that will come to them.
It takes a lot of soul-searching and personal prayer to know the needs of each child in the family. If a mother has prepared herself in this way, she might be able to see the reason for misbehavior and have the patience to be understanding during a difficult time. She can help her child to gain a vision of the purpose of this life if she will take the child to a private place where the two of them can pray together for the needs of the troubled one. She can show her love for this child when in the spirit of prayer she is able to express the feelings that are so difficult to put into words.
The easiest way to begin a prayer is with an expression of thanksgiving: “Father, I am grateful for this dear daughter whom thou hast entrusted to me. Please help me to know her and help her through this time. I know that I am often busy, but make me more willing to listen to her and to listen without preaching or judging. Help me to express the great love I feel for her in ways that will be meaningful, and help me to be understanding of her needs. And please bless her, Father, with wisdom beyond her years, that she may be forgiving of my faults and willing to accept the love I offer her. Help her to see that I am a child in this life as much as she, and that we can help each other through the difficulties we face.”
There must be personal, secret prayers for parents too. But they should not always be so secret that children think their parents have no need for prayer. A child might occasionally find his mother or father upon their knees seeking the answer to a problem. If a question is asked, the answer is simple: “I needed help in preparing my lesson, and I asked Heavenly Father to help me.”
And parents should not be too quick with the solution to every problem presented to them. Tell a child, “I really don’t know how to advise you. Please give me time to pray about it.” A frequent criticism of adults by teenagers is that they think they know all the answers when they really have none. Parents allow them to feel this when they quickly jump in with advice and platitudes without understanding the problem. Young people need to know that even mature people are lost without the guidance of the Spirit.
No greater responsibility has been given to anyone than the responsibility given to parents to rear worthy children. As evidenced by the troubled families all around us, parents cannot handle the problems alone. Never at any time are the members of a family more united or more in tune with the Spirit than when upon their knees in humble prayer. Parents can use this special, sacred time to bear testimony, to speak of love, and to teach—through prayer.