My husband and I are not unusual in the sense that we have three daughters. What is unusual about our family, however, is that two of our three girls have special needs. “Special needs,” of course, runs a wide gamut. In our case, it covers both minor developmental issues that can be corrected through occupational therapy (for our oldest, Felicity) and complex care that includes medical, psychological, and educational professionals (for Sarah, our middle child).
When we were teaching the older girls how to pray, they weren’t sure what that entailed. I wanted to use the acronym ACTS to explain that prayer can be adoration, contrition, thanksgiving, and supplication (or petition). But they didn’t really understand the academic explanation. Here’s what I did instead. (Thank you, Holy Spirit!)
Use a simple formula for young kids or children who have cognitive impairment to help prayer become a natural, fluid conversation with God that covers all of the four hallmarks of prayer:
- Dear Jesus, my day was…
- Thank you for…
- I’m sorry for…
- Please help me to…
- I love you, Jesus. Amen.
Have your child begin in front of an image of Jesus or statue. In our home, it’s a framed image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The girls get some holy water, make the Sign of the Cross (sometimes with help), and begin with item #1. Telling Jesus about their day helps them make the connection that Jesus is real and cares about the details of our lives – also that our daily lives change, and it’s good to bring the hurts, frustrations, and joys to prayer.
Item #2 is a prayer of thanksgiving. I try to jog my girls’ memory by saying, “What is something good that happened today you’d like to thank Jesus for?” Sometimes the variations of this might be, “What’s something special about today?” or “Is there a person in your life you want to thank Jesus for?” Gratitude, I believe, fosters a much deeper sense of who we are as people of faith because of acknowledging God’s provision.
When we segue into item #3, we are entering into contrition. This is a very rudimentary form of an evening examen, but the point is to put a habit into place that can be expounded upon later, as your child matures. I might prompt the girls with something like, “What’s something you did today that you wish you hadn’t?” or “Are you sorry for anything you might have said or done today?” It’s incredible the things they remember and bring to the Lord!
#4 is really a continuation of the third item, yet it acts alone as the hallmark of petition, or supplication. I tell the girls that sometimes when we see our sins, we can ask Jesus for the grace of a specific virtue we might need. For example, if Felicity says she is sorry for mouthing off to Mom today, she might ask Jesus to help her use self-control and grow in respect. These, of course, are conversations we have as they go along with their prayer.
Finally, let’s end with praising God! When we tell Him we love Him (which we can never do enough), we end our short conversation by handing Him our hearts.
This has become such a treasured part of our nightly routine, and it has been a very useful way to incorporate spontaneous dialogue between our girls and God.