The prayer of children, particularly children under the age of 6 years, is quite different to that of the prayer of adults. It is spontaneous and includes silence and reflection. Consider a very small child silently watching an insect in the garden or concentrating intently on some task they are doing. This silent contemplation is a form of prayer. Very young children express their prayer in the joy of experiencing everything as new and wonderful. Their spoken prayer is that of thanksgiving and joy.
Gianna Gobbi in “Listening to God with Children” (p118) expresses it this way:
The child’s prayer can be very brief, such as “Jesus”, “Goodness”, “Light”, or “Amen” and is often followed by a long silence. Furthermore, the spontaneous prayer of the younger child is exclusively a prayer of praise and thanksgiving, rather than a prayer of petition. Thus, we hear: “Thank you for the light!” “Thank you for everything!” “Thank you because I am one of your sheep!” “Jesus is wonderful!” “My body is happy!”
This time of building their relationship with God is so beautiful and precious, we do not like to impose upon them our adult worries about the world, about our sin, our needs. We try to allow the children to continue to grow in the wonder of the new life they have been born into and grow in their natural praise and joyful thanks for all they have.
This does not mean that we neglect more formal prayer with children at this age. Through the prayers found in scripture in the prophecies and psalms, in the Infancy Narratives, the children are introduced to the language of prayer. They are in a time of their life where language is developing, and it is important for them to be exposed to the beautiful language of prayer.
“My soul magnifies the Lord!”
“The Lord is my shepherd, I have everything I need.”
“Thy Kingdom come!”
Later when they are a bit older and begin to see how we must work in community to serve the body of Christ, children enter a moral stage of development. Then is the time when children more naturally pray prayers of petition. Until then, let us join with them, sensitive to their needs, in joyful thanks and praise to our God.