Teaching our kids how to properly pray the Holy Rosary and reflect on the mysteries as the beauty of the repetition washes over us sounds like a goal someone without kids must have thought up. It’s a beautiful idea, but have you ever tried to pray a rosary with babies, toddlers, and pre-K running around? Worth it, but also chaotic! I want to share some of my strategies and methods of keeping things happy and under control, when it’s possible.
1. Start small, very small
Now, this suggestion is not only for the family that has already had a regular rosary routine before having children, and your kids work their way into the routine. Even then, listen: start small. Learning the prayers is first: ensure your kids can hear you clearly state the major parts of the rosary: the Hail Mary, the Our Father, and the Glory Be. As soon as two years old, they will begin to mouth the beginning and ends of the prayers, and they’ll also begin to realize that this family sets aside time to pray, and nothing else.
2. Add one decade at a time
When your children are generally old enough to keep focus for about 5 minutes, you can expect them to be able to keep up with one full decade. The idea might not “click” for them, that is, they almost certainly wont get the mysteries, the meditation, and these sorts of concepts, but they’ll really begin to build the right routine: an Our Father, ten Hail Marys, a Glory Be, and repeat.
3. Give them beads early
It’s almost never too early to give a child a rosary. But there are several caveats. First, safety. Do not give them a fragile set of beads—kids under 1, even before they can sit up, can pull apart an average rosary. They also love putting the beads into their mouth (and everything else in the world) and this is a recipe for choking conditions, so avoid it. We have special rosaries for the kids, like the stronger unbreakable ones made of parachute cord, and the chewy ones, too. Second to safety, the rosary is a sacramental and the laws of the church obligate the believer to treat them with dignity and reverence. If they can be broken by a toddler or young child, give them something else and/or hold the standard that we treat these sign of faith with the most precious handling. Keeping aware of these things, do give them beads early.
4. Or, find another fun way to count the decade
Going back to the last suggestion a little bit, you can (and we have) find another method of counting to ten with the child. For example, one of my daughter’s personal favorites is putting a faux rose into a flower vase as we say each bead and starting over again every decade on the Our Father, offering them to Jesus on the small altar we have set up. My boys enjoy making a rosary out of mini M&M’s and they get to eat each bead as we pray. This is acceptable until a certain age where it is no longer productive, or becomes about the activity and less about the prayer, or is otherwise inappropriate. The point is to engage them in the counting, along with the prayer.
5. It’s okay to “find the time” to pray a rosary
For families who are not yet able to decide and keep to a routine for their rosary—like on Sundays after Mass—finding other times to handle this is acceptable. Starting with a simple decade, doing the rosary out loud while they play around you, doing them in the car while they are buckled and can’t run off, having a playlist of sung prayers to play throughout your day or on a walk are each acceptable ways to make the rosary a normal activity. However, this should only go for so long. Devotion to the rosary, especially as the kids get older (think age five and six years old) they are totally able to sit still and give their focus to the prayer.
6. Make sure the older kids get it
It’s a huge help to have one or two older kids who can recite, or at least keep up with, the entire rosary distraction free. They might mumble, they might look around, they might even giggle at the silly things babies do when their parents need them to be a little more still. As long as they can provide that leadership role that tells the toddler and younger kids, “This is what big kids do, and we like it” then your younger children have a natural role model that supports your ultimate leading. So be sure, in the early years of your first kids, that your give them the time and guidance to pray the rosary with sincerity—it will pay off in multiple ways.
7. Make it interesting
The family rosary is the perfect time to also introduce other sacramentals. While praying to rosary, it’s wise to light a candle in a prominent (and safe) place, and to remind your child why a candle represents Christ. Some pious families also burn incense throughout the prayer, or ring a bell at specific parts to call the attention of those present. Make it interesting with these sacramentals, and you’ll be doubling your catechesis!
8. Do it early if possible
A friend once told me, “It’s great you got your kids into praying like that at an early age, because it’s so much more difficult when they’re older.” And that came from a family I admire, respect, and wish to emulate. In light of that advice, I try to be sure that nothing gets in the way of my family’s established time set aside for prayer.
9. Just do it, otherwise
Do not be discouraged if you didn’t get an early start. Whether your children are ten, fifteen, or more years old, just commit to the prayer time. Remember, that you’re doing this whether they do it or not(and like it or not). Just carrying out your commitment might speak more to them than what feel like forcing them to do something they don’t understand yet.
10. Gather your perspectives
Remember at the top of this article I said “I want to share some of my strategies and methods of keeping things happy and under control, when it’s possible.” Well, I meant that last part in particular. Because sometimes, it’s not. There are time where a parent has to walk a child to the other room. There have been moments where I say, “Okay, let’s do this later after naps” or “Let’s pick back up on this when I get the baby down.” Gather yourself and make a good decision that says, “this is important, but so is taking care of the situation.”