My 8.5-year-old son has recently become disinterested in davening and bentching. When I try to let him know (without pressuring) that "it's time to bentch now," or "let's take 10 minutes to daven before we have the Shabbos meal," he responds that he doesn't want to or isn't in the mood. I tried starting to give out "bentching treats" to the children after bentching, but now this child uses it as a condition that he will only bentch if I give him a good treat, and this just doesn't feel like good chinuch. How can I bring excitement and enthusiasm to these areas that seem like a burden to my son? Thank you, Private
I love the way you ended off your email. Excitement and enthusiasm are key elements in Chinuch, and not just for Bentching. Doing Mitzvos should never feel like a burden.
Additionally, the issue you brought up regarding rewarding positive behaviors, is a real one. Many parents and mechanchim make this common mistake, and the result is always the same. When you reward children for doing something correctly, they will require a similar or greater reward for each occurrence.
Here’s a simple example. A counselor in a sleep-away camp has a camper who refuses to eat the camp food. There are a few solutions available including ensuring that this child doesn’t bring snacks to the lunchroom, helping him decide which foods to try, or even enlisting the help of a senior staff member. If this counselor decided to reward the camper for eating, the camper will NEVER eat without being rewarded. Although a small reward seems like a quick fix, ultimately, it’s a step in the wrong direction.
In any case, your email mentioned two separate issues, namely Davening and Bentching. I would rather discuss Bentching since that’s what you seem to be focusing on as well. Here are some Bentching tips that might help you out. As always, some of these might be more useful than others.
Instead of saying, “We need to Bentch now” or, “Did you Bentch yet?”, you could say, “Let’s Bentch to thank Hashem.”
It’s important to keep in mind that, even as children mature, it’s better not to ask them whether they have bentched. They might view this as a challenge or test. Instead, try handing them a bencher and saying, “Here’s a bencher.”
If you have family meal (EG Shabbos) and you have a specific child that didn’t Bentch well, bring it up at the next meal. You can say “Before you wash for bread, I need you to remember that you need to Bentch afterwards. Last night, you didn’t Bentch so well, and I would rather you not wash for Hamotzie unless you’re sure you’ll be able to Bentch.
It’s important that the parents use a Bentcher when they Bentch. If your kids see you looking inside, they’ll likely do that same.
Although there isn’t a specific amount of time Bentching should take, it’s a good idea to Bentch somewhat loudly so your kids get an idea how much time to spend saying the words.
It’s never a bad idea to enlist the help of his Rebbe. A good Rebbe can motivate the whole class to make Brachos like Bnai Torah.
Bentching is very connected to Hakoras Hatov. After a meal, you can announce “After we thank Mommy for the yummy meal, let’s thank Hashem!”
Bentching is a Bracha Achrona. There are many other Brachos that should be focused on as well. Al Hamichya, Borei Nefashos and even an Asher Yatzar. Being consistent is a great way to parent, and you should focus on all of these.
Whereas rewarding children for expected behaviors is a bad idea, it’s always a great idea to compliment them for a job well done. If your child does an exceptionally good job reading the words inside the Bentcher, giving him a shout-out is a fantastic idea.
Lastly, there are some fabulous books written that discuss the rewards for Bentching slowly and inside a Bentcher. I would suggest picking a few of these up and leaving them around for your kids to read.
Wishing you and your family much Hatzlacha,
Have a good Shabbos,
Rabbi Yitzie Ross is a Rebbe and has been working with parents and kids for many years. You can read more about him in the "about" section.