Teaching Children with Disabilities How to Pray

Teaching Children with Special Needs How to Pray

“Jesus said, ‘Let the children come to me and do not hinder them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.’” Matthew 19:14. God desires above all else a relationship with His children. This was the very reason Jesus came to earth- to reconcile us to God and restore our relationship with the Father. Prayer is one of the most fundamental ways that we can commune with God and deepen our relationship with Him. Therefore, teaching our children how to pray ought to be one of our top priorities as we raise our children in our faith. 

Some may think that if they just teach their children the Bible, then they are providing access for their children to come to Jesus. That is definitely an important part of the relationship God wants for our children. He definitely desires that we teach our children His Word and His ways. (In fact this website is designed for that very purpose- to provide resources for teaching children of differing abilities the Bible.) However if we only teach our children what God says, (i.e.- listening to God), but we never instruct our children with how they can talk to God, then they are missing out on a whole other side of a friendship with God. I believe that our assignment is to not only teach our children God’s Word, but also how to boldly approach the throne of grace through prayer. This is the other end of the relationship that the Lord wants with his lambs. As an added bonus, we are giving the means to talk with the Lord even when we are not around!

As most of you may already know, children with special needs (as well as many neuro-typical children) need something as abstract as prayer broken down into clear steps. I have broken down prayer into 5 basic forms for children to learn: The Lord’s Prayer, 5 Finger Prayer, 4 Square Prayer, Casting Care prayer, and a free form prayer. With each progressive method comes more freedom and less structure than the previous one. Find whatever method(s) work for your child(ren) and/or students. You can stay with one form for a while before introducing them to the next form. Teaching them even one of these methods will begin training them in the habit of prayer. I pray that these methods will bless you as you teach your children and/or students how to pray.

The Lord’s Prayer

I like to start a unit on prayer by teaching the Lord’s prayer first for a couple of reasons: 1. This is the prayer Jesus taught his disciples, so it must be very important for all believers to learn. 2. The words are already prepared so children do not yet have the responsibility of creating their own petitions or praises. Essentially, the Lord has prescribed this prayer for all of His followers, so it seems like a great place to begin learning about prayer. This book breaks down the Lord’s prayer with beautiful illustrations so that children can begin understanding the concepts right away, and the interactive form provides a hands-on approach for all learners. 

The 5 Finger Prayer

This next method of prayer helps children learn the importance of praying for other people. I dedicated a brief portion of this book to include the story of Job and how praying for his friends unlocked a special victory in his situation. This method breaks down praying for other people in the following order: 1. Praying for the people closest to us, 2. Praying for our teachers and pastors, 3. Praying for our leaders, 4. Praying for the weak, sick, poor, and disabled, and 5. Praying for anyone we need to forgive. The five finger prayer concludes with the open palm, reminding us that God holds us in the palm of his hand and that we can trust in His faithfulness. 

The 4 Square Prayer

This form of prayer follows the grown-up “ACTS” form of prayer- Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication. However to make the prayer more child-friendly, the fancy words are substituted with Wow-I’m Sorry-Thanks- Please. And those words can be arranged in any particular order. I personally like to begin with Wow and Thanks (or Thanks and Wow) so that I can teach them that the Bible teaches us to enter the Lord’s gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise. (Psalm 100). This form of prayer then goes into confession of sins and petitioning the Lord for what we need and desire, according to His will. 

All of the above prayer methods are taught using pictures. Due to the fact that the 4 Square Prayer is more personal in nature, I “interview” the children a week or two before I am doing this particular lesson, so that I can prepare pictures to illustrate the prayers beforehand for the purposes of it being personalized on the day of the lesson.

The Casting Care Prayer

With this book, children are taught the principle found in I Peter 5:7 of casting our worries and anxieties onto the Lord. True peace is experienced when we allow God to take over what is concerning us. The earlier in life children learn this concept, the more emotionally stable and peaceful they will be. In this prayer, we enter a less formal format for children to follow. This method of prayer may be difficult for children with limited language skills, so use your discretion. I have noted, however, that even for children with limited expressive language, they understand more of what you are saying than you may think. So if you teach this method, you never know how they may implement it in their own minds and hearts between themselves and the Lord!

The Free Form Prayer

Here is where we would like children to enter into a lifestyle of prayer by praying to the Lord throughout the day about anything and everything. This free form style of prayer encourages them to “pray without ceasing” (I Thess 5:17) and to be in constant communion with God through prayer. It may take a long time for children to embrace this method and implement it in their lives, however through talking with them and modeling this for them throughout the course of your day, you can provide an example to your children and students that we can talk to the Lord about anything and everything.  

As I mentioned earlier, find whatever form works best for the children you serve. Even if they one learn one or two of these methods of prayer, their lives will be enhanced by the experience and practice of talking directly to the Lord through prayer. May God bless you as you facilitate the habit of prayer with your children/students!

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