1. Validate Your Child's Intuition
Every child-even the most rebellious teen-has an innate sense of some unseen presence greater than themselves. All you have to do is to validate this intuition of a warm and comforting presence that lives very near them, maybe even inside them. To begin, encourage them in the privacy of their own heart just to let go and pour out their pent-up feelings and thoughts to this unseen, healing presence. Encourage them to communicate to the Divine just a little every day. It doesn't have to be more than a few sentences, like, "Hi, I'm Stephen. Things aren't going well. I'm very sad. Please hold me and help me fall asleep." This way, they know they don't have to be in a formal setting in a church, mosque or temple to pray. They can pray in their room, outside, as they walk or take a break in their homework-in fact, anywhere at all.
2. Use Established Prayers
To begin to develop to this precious skill, it helps to learn passages like the Lord's Prayer, the 23rd Psalm, or the Native American "Let Me Walk in Beauty." Kids don't always feel they have the right to address their little concerns to the greatest power in the universe, and they need to warm up to it. Such passages can show how other people, like Jesus, King David, and the mother Mary, opened their feelings up to God. So choose a passage that pulsates with feelings directed toward the Supreme. Or help your child choose a word like "Om" or "Jesus," and tell them to repeat it when they feel scared or overwhelmed. It's just one, power-packed word, no problem to remember. My boy chose such a word when he was very young, and he repeated it whenever he was anxious. At one of those times, when he was batting cleanup in the Little League city championships, he said it silently before his at bat. When he came to the plate, he smashed a double and drove in the winning run!
3. Help Them Reach for Their Own Words
Your kids may still feel they need help communicating their feelings to the Supreme. Tell them that, whenever they feel hurt, sad, alone, or helpless, whenever life seems mean and cruel, they can just plead, "Oh God, everything is so awful, just help me!" Then, show them how to turn the feelings around into a request. Say, for instance, your child has been mercilessly teased by a classmate and comes home in tears. Ask them, "If you don't like feeling like this, what would you like?" Tell them the Divine can heal all hurts and wounds and, in fact, is capable of anything. Then, suggest that they pray not just for themselves, but also for the person who has injured them-that they may realize their hurtfulness and become a better person. In this way, prayer will reach into and energize the deeper reaches of your child's being and plug them into a greater power at work in the universe.
4. Let Them Feel the Benefits
Prayer can also be offered when your child is doing fine, but a friend, classmate, or relative has a serious illness or injury. Whether the outcome is the one they prayed for or not, I would echo the words of my meditation teacher. When he was despairing about whether his prayers might actually help those he prayed for, she said, "Not only will your prayers will help them, they will also help you." When your kids pray that people and animals in need can have good homes and plenty to eat, help them also to understand that offering such prayer will also make them stronger and more secure people.
5. Talk About Prayer at Home
Remember that anything as different from daily life as prayer-a plea for something barely possible addressed to someone your kids can't see-might make them feel self-conscious. The solution to this problem is to take the secrecy out of it. Start talking about prayer with enthusiasm as you talk about other interests. This is not to say you should push or overpromote it; that will surely send them in the opposite direction. But there is nothing wrong with saying, for example, that you are praying for Grandma who is in the hospital with cancer, or for the people who lost their homes in Hurricane Katrina. Tell your child that prayer can reconfigure the forces in the universe and cause events to happen more favorably than anyone imagines. The more you talk about prayer, the more you will inculcate in them a reservoir of hope, in situations about which they may otherwise feel helpless and despairing.
6. Include Other People Who Pray
I have found how much being with other people who pray makes my practice flow better. So seek out those friends who practice prayer and invite them over. Let your kids see how wonderfully normal they are. Let them also see how happy it can make them to ask from the spiritual universe, the source of everything we see and experience. Tell them that if they pray, their own voice can make such a difference that Jesus' words can come true: "Knock, and it shall be opened." For surely prayer will open for your child a new capacity for seeing that their own feelings matter greatly and they are never alone.