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,
Hi Rabbi Ross, I hope all is well. I have a quick question and would love to hear your thoughts. In Yiddishkeit it is a very lofty level for someone to be able to be mevater, whether between husband and wife or between two friends etc. This is also, of course something which we would love to teach our children as well. My question is, if your child has a situation where he or she should be mevater- how do we know when to get your child to try to mevater or when your child should be taught to stand up for themselves. What is the geder between kids being mevater and between building our children's self-esteem? Thanks! Ariel Sonnenblick
I first heard the term “Being Mevater” about twenty years ago. Rav Binyamin Kamenetzky zt"l told me I should have a theme for every year. When I asked him what the theme should be, he told me that the boys should learn to be Mevater. I didn’t understand it fully then, so I asked Rabbi Herzberg zt”l who told me that it should always be my yearly theme. I’ll quote. “You can’t explain mevater, you have to live it.”
So, every week (even now) when I send my class newsletter home, it has a picture of a little person exclaiming “I was mevater!” However, the term mevater has become an overused term that became loosely translated as “giving in” which is not the real meaning. The word is hard to translate, but it really means to relinquish what is yours.
Here’s the difference. Imagine that you have two children playing a game and they’re taking turns. This is called sharing. As you’re watching them, one of them tries to continue playing even though his turn is up. You turn to him and say, “It’s not your turn, be mevater.” However, that’s incorrect. It’s not his turn, and he’s not giving up something that is rightfully his. If the other child were to say, “That’s ok, he can play a little longer, that is being mevater.”
I can explain another difference by sharing a story that happened to me a few weeks ago. My wife sent me to the Gourmet Glatt in Cedarhurst on (gasp) Thursday night. It goes without saying, that it was quite busy in the store, but thankfully I was only picking up a few items. I headed over to the “15 items or less line” and began patiently waiting. Suddenly, a lady came running up carrying a few boxes of eggs and asked one of the women in the front if she could go in front of her. The lady magnanimously replied, “I’ll gladly be mevater!”
It was a beautifully inspiring scene except for one small detail. This lady couldn’t be mevater since she was inconveniencing all the people behind her. No one said a word, but the stares of the others in line could’ve cut steel. Had she said, “Take my place, I’ll go to the back of the line”, well, that would’ve been being mevater.
Now that we have a better understanding of the word, let’s try to figure out the answer to your question. You are wondering when a child should stand up for himself as opposed to being mevater. We want our children to have confidence and be willing to stand up for what’s correct. If your child is constantly giving in, you’re worried that he won’t gain the confidence required to mature.
There are children that are raised like this, and whenever there is any conflict, they quickly give in. I agree that it’s not healthy. I had a boy in my class years ago that took the front seat on the first day. When another boy asked for that seat, he said “Sure”. A few minutes later, another boy asked for his new seat, and he gave that up as well. A few minutes later he was sitting in the back. I walked over to him and asked where he really wanted to sit and he told me “Near the front so I can focus better, but it’s fine.” I moved him back to the front and shifted everyone back a seat.
I called his mother after Yeshiva, and she said “He really does need the front, and I drove him early so he can pick a good seat. If a different boy wants the seat, I guess he can sit further back.” I told her that if he will learn better in a specific seat, he shouldn’t give it up so easily. Teaching our children to stand up for themselves, when appropriate, is very important.
The fact is, standing up for oneself and being mevater aren’t mutually exclusive. Let’s give some examples. It’s Friday night and the meal is about to start. Your oldest son always sits next to you and is about to sit down when his younger brother says, “I want to sit here tonight!” As you’re mentally preparing yourself for a meal of bickering and sulking, your bechor turns and says to his brother, “It’s ok, you can sit in my seat tonight.”
This is the true meaning of mevater. He made it clear that it was his seat and that he was willing to relinquish the seat. It was also understood that this was a one-time offer. Most importantly, he did this of his own initiative and with a smile.
Another example would be during breakfast time. One of your kids is about to pour the last of the fruity pebbles into his bowl, when a younger sibling cries “I wanted some!” The older child stops for a second, and says to his younger sibling, “Here, I’ll pour it for you.” Again, he is relinquishing the right to the cereal, and doing it with a great attitude. He’s going all out “Belev Shaleim” which is a key part to being mevater.
In both cases, your child is taking control of the situation and still being mevater. Here are some helpful hints that will help understand how to teach our children to be mevater while still giving them the confidence that they need to stand up for themselves.
• If your children are ever arguing, instead of choosing a side or getting involved, ask them to pause for a second. Explain both sides of the argument out loud. Then call over the more mature one and quietly tell him that this is a chance to prove his maturity by being mevater even though he feels he is correct.
• Being mevater means with a smile. Saying “Fine! Keep the dumb book!” isn’t being mevater.
• Asking “Who wants to be mevater” when kids are arguing is ok occasionally. If you say it every day, it really cheapens the word.
• I find it very helpful to explain to your child why you’re proud of her. “You were supposed to get a turn, and you gave it up for your sister. That’s very kind and generous of you! Great job being mevater!”
• I don’t think the word mevater should ever be said by the person that’s being mevater. For example, if your daughter says, “I’ll be mevater” you can tell her “That was very nice of you. Next time try being mevater without even saying so.”
• No one should ever be mevater at another person’s expense.
Wishing you continued Yiddishe Nachas from your children,
Have a good Shabbos,
Rabbi Ross. You mentioned that the responsibility of a mother is to work on Davening with their kids at home. What should I be doing with them, and how do I combine all the ages? Rachel Ehrenberg
I truly enjoyed last week’s column, especially since my father says the same thing. “Why has Davening become longer if it’s harder for us to focus?” One part that stood out was regarding the mother being in charge of Davening at home with the kids. Is there anything in particular I should be doing? Yael G.
Hi, thank you always for your interesting and thought-provoking articles! I was wondering exactly what you meant by the tone for davening is set by the mother. I would love a longer explanation on this if possible. Thank you, Shira Kramer
These are three of the many e-mails I’ve received after last week’s article. All of these people are asking fair questions. I did mention in passing that “The one person who really teaches the kids to Daven is their mother.” I strongly believe that if the mother is on top of the Davening at home, the kids will learn how to Daven, and the transition to Shul will be much easier. Therefore, I will share my thoughts on how this could work. Obviously, all children are different, but hopefully you can use the advice below as a guide.
To keep things simple, let’s assume there are three ages that we’re dealing with. There are toddlers ranging in ages from two-years-old up to five-years-old. The next group would start there and go up to approximately seven-years-old. The oldest group continues up to around eleven-years-old. Kids that are older than this ideally should be going to Shul. For arguments sake, we’re going to assume the children in the situations below are boys. I am not sure how this works with the girls as they get older (and still Davening at home). I need to think about this and speak to some Mechanchim in girl’s Yeshivos.
Here are my thoughts beginning with the youngest age group.
2-4 Even at the age of one, children understand and internalize everything their parents do. The first thing you (we’re talking about the mother) should do every morning, is say Modeh Ani and wash them Neggel Vasser. Make the Bracha together with him. Comments like “Now we’re ready to start our day” are also helpful, since they should connect washing hands to beginning the day. It’s worth mentioning that the attitude we display when performing Mitzvos is a huge indicator as to our emotions. Stumbling over to the sink in pre-coffee mode won’t be as effective as walking over with a big smile.
The next step with this age, is to Daven. Let your little guys play near you while you Daven. If they disturb you, don’t say “Not now – I’m Davening”. We want to associate Davening with happiness. Make sure to look inside a siddur when you’re Davening and try to stay in one area. This prepares them for eventually going to a shul. Let them sit on your lap as you read the words. If you can, sing with them parts of Davening.
Your goal is to make them realize that Davening to Hashem is a part of the day that you enjoy, something that makes you happy. Children at this age mimic everything, and they are surprisingly adept at reading body language. It wouldn’t shock me, if after a few weeks of this, your toddler begins to imitate your motions.
5-7. At this age, children should understand the importance of Davening. They are probably singing parts of Davening in school, and can say Modeh Ani, Shema, and a handful of other parts of Davening. Many kids this age even have a special Siddur from their school, but if not, you can find many wonderful children’s Siddurim in your local Seforim store.
It is helpful to find out what they Daven in school, and even better if you can speak to the Rebbe or Morah to determine what they think should be said at home. Once the older kids or your husband go to Shul, you can start Davening with him. (We’re assuming of course that he already washed Neggel Vasser when he woke up).
You can give him a spot to Daven in the same room you’re Davening. Set up a Siddur for him and begin Davening yourself. Encourage him to sing any parts that he knows out loud – tell him it makes Hashem so happy. You want to stay away from offering prizes of any sort for Davening, a compliment from you is more than enough.
It’s so important to keep in mind that every child is different. There are some five-year-old boys that will Daven for 15 minutes beautifully, and there are seven-year-old boys that will stop after three minutes. Don’t make the mistake of comparing your son to your neighbor’s grandson who “Davens the entire Shacharis by heart with all the Meforshim at the age of three!” A lot of children find it more challenging to Daven, and it’s not necessarily a reflection of your parenting.
Once you see your son is “finished”, ask him to close his Siddur, give it a kiss, and put it back on the shelf. If he Davened nicely, let him know. Give him a kiss and tell him “I’m so proud of you! Hashem loves when you talk to him! “You should finish Davening yourself at that time while he’s playing (or more likely making a mess somewhere). Afterwards, call him over and say the following. “You’re Davening so well, that I’m going to speak to Abba and see if you can start going to Shul a little bit. Really Shul is for big boys, but you’re really proving that you’re so big.” (More on going to Shul with your husband later).
If his Davening wasn’t that good, don’t make a big deal out of it. If you see him playing around or spacing out, don’t shake your head or make any negative comments. Simply say, “It looks like you’re done Davening. As you get older, you’ll begin to Daven much nicer. Thank you for taking time to talk to Hashem.” Then remind him to put the siddur away and give it a kiss. I wouldn’t worry too much about a seven-year-old that’s not Davening. If he does better next week, even if it’s only a drop better, make a big deal out of it. Send a Mitzvah note to his Rebbe. Tell your husband at the Shabbos table.
8-10. At this age, they really should be already going to Shul for at least part of the Davening, but we’ll discuss that at the end. Initially, the idea is similar to the 5-7 age group. Set up a spot for him to Daven and Daven yourself in the same room. There will probably be less singing, but he should know a lot more Tefilos.
You don’t want to focus on his Davening. Even if he’s looking out of the siddur the entire time, don’t make any comments. Focus on your Davening. Look inside your Siddur. Concentrate. He’s still a kid. If you see that he’s not even trying to Daven anymore, ask him to Daven Shema (or any main Tefila that he didn’t Daven yet) inside and then tell him he’s done. If he tells you “I already said Shema” make eye contact with him and say “OK. Thank you for Davening to Hashem. Ideally, a boy of your age would Daven a little more, but I understand it’s not always easy.” Have him put his Siddur back and give it a kiss. Keep in mind, if he’s focused on something else (E.G. legos, or a book) it might be smarter to let him play before he Davens so he can get it out of his system.
The next week you should repeat the same approach. However, before he begins Davening tell him “Last week you Davened for 9 minutes. Let’s try to Daven to Hashem for an extra few minutes.” This is more important for boys that are ten or eleven years old. Again, don’t offer any rewards or prizes, rather let him Daven on his own. Obviously, you want to increase the time spent Davening week by week until you feel he’s ready to go to Shul.
If no matter what you do, he’s resistant to Davening, I still wouldn’t make a big deal out of it. Make sure that you keep davening, and every once in a while, tell him, “When you get older, you will IY”H appreciate the beauty and importance of Davening”. One other point for this age group, is not giving him a job during the time he should be Davening. For example, if he’s not Davening during the assigned time, don’t tell him to watch his younger brother since he’s not Davening. You don’t want him justifying his lack of Davening because he’s helping out. Once his allotted time is complete, you can have him help.
The last two concepts I would like to mention, are acclimating to Shul and dealing with multiple ages.
When your son is ready to start Davening in Shul, you must ensure you have an escape plan. If Davening begins at 9:00, it would be great if he stayed until the Torah comes out so he can give it a kiss. Send along some Jewish books, and maybe a lollipop or something. As a side note, I’m sure the Shul would rather you not send crummy foods or open drinks.
Make sure that your husband is helping him with the parts you’ve been doing at home whatever the age. When he’s done Davening and is becoming fidgety, have your husband (or an older sibling) bring him back home. I know this isn’t ideal, but if you let him run around in Shul , he’ll never appreciate the holiness of the shul. It’ll just be another playground for him.
When he comes back home, make a huge deal every week. “Wow! You Davened in Shul! How was it? Were you super quiet?” Going to Shul is a reward of its own. You’ll be surprised at how quickly he’ll be able to stay for the entire Davening. If it doesn’t work out well the first time, wait a few weeks before trying again.
As many of you are aware, I’m not a fan of youth groups. I’m not going to get into the particulars, but I strongly believe that it’s the parent’s responsibility to teach their children how to Daven. Although there are always some exceptions, it seems to me that many groups on Shabbos are just glorified babysitting. I know that many of you disagree with me, and if you have already sent me your rebuttal the last time I wrote this, you don’t need to resend it. Unless it makes you feel better, in which case, send it over.
The last discussion is dealing with multiple ages simultaneously. Working with multiple children changes the whole dynamics. It’s not possible to give a concrete solution since there are so many variables. If there are siblings that are of similar ages, you can setup a mini-Shul, and let them take turns being chazzan. Make sure to constantly compliment the children Davening well.
If it’s not practical to have them all daven together, I would focus on the older ones first and let the younger ones play in a different room. If you’re unable to Daven at all because of the other kids, you need to determine if the older kids are capable of Davening without your help. If yes, let them Daven, and make a big deal about how proud of them you are. If they still need your assistance, Daven with them when your husband comes home from Shul.
If your husband offers to Daven with them when he gets home, I wouldn’t take him up on the offer. First of all, it’ll be a chance for you to daven also (while letting your husband “bond” with the little guys.) Additionally, I really think that women are better suited to giving over a love for Davening.
I would like to end off with four questions that we can all think about.
What should you do if your son’s friends are running around the Shul and he wants to join them?
How about if your husband isn’t a great Davener, or Chas V’shalom talks during Davening. Should you still send your boys?
What should a parent do if a younger child is Davening better than the older child. Should the younger child be allowed to go to Shul if the older boy is still at home?
And lastly, is it smart to tell a child that is a weak Davener that a sick person needs his Tefilos?
I would love to hear your thoughts – you can comment below although I tend to stop the comments pretty quickly. E-mailing me is always a great way to get in touch.
Have a great Shabbos!
My 11-year-old son is very resistant to staying in Shul for Davening on Shabbos morning. Davening now takes almost 2 ½ hours, and he can’t sit still for that long. He Davens for an hour and then wants a 15-minute break. He goes outside and plays with other kids in the Shul, and then comes in a while later and Davens some more. Every week the break is longer, and my wife and I are heartbroken since we raised him to appreciate the importance of Davening. Any help you can throw our way would be much appreciated.
Shlomo Caiman – Kew Gardens
My theory regarding Davening is, Shul is for Davening. I’ve written this before and I’m sticking to it. If your son wants to take a “break” from Davening, he should be brought back home. You certainly shouldn’t act upset at him, nor should you tell him off. Simply say, it’s fine if you want to play, but Shul is only for Davening. The fact is, that the one person who really teaches the kids to Daven, is the mother. She’s the one that instills in the children the importance of Davening, and even inculcates within them a love of Tefilah. I know many women that never get to go to Shul on Shabbos, but they’ve raised some amazing children. It’s a sacrifice, but it’s well worth it.
What’s the problem with letting kids play for a bit? I personally know many teenagers that were allowed to run outside and play when they finished Shemona Esrai when they were younger. Now, they’re 15+ years old and they still run around during Davening. There are exceptions, but if children grow up thinking Shul is a place to play, it’s hard to change that mindset.
You did bring up a second interesting point in your e-mail. What used to be called “Ants in the pants” or “No zitz fleish” is now called ADHD. Yes, I’m certainly generalizing, but many kids (and adults) have shorter attention spans these days. Some people blame it on electronics, others on our diet. No matter what the reason, children these days have a harder time focusing and sitting through Davening.
The oddest part about this, is that Shacharis on Shabbos in many Shuls now takes longer than it used to. I recall Davening in many Shuls that took approximately 2 hours for Shabbos Davening, and now, as you so eloquently pointed out, they’re almost at 2 ½ hours. What changed? I asked about twenty different people ranging from Rebbeim to businessman and got very similar responses. They all agree that Shabbos Davening has become longer over the year. No one had any clear-cut reasons, but they all shared their thoughts.
So, what is it? Possibly the Baalei Tefilah are taking longer. Maybe the Rav is speaking longer. More Mi Shebeirachs? Laining going slower? In any case, I don’t think it’s a good thing. If we really want our children to stay in Shul and Daven, we need to be more understanding. Those extra 15 -25 minutes are very hard for kids that are already at the tail end of their limit.
I sat with a few Gabboim who broke down their ideal timing for Shacharis. 25-30 minutes for Pesukei d’Zimra. 20-30 minutes for Shacharis. 35-50 minutes for Laining. 15-20 minutes for Mussaf. 5 minutes for Anim Zemiros and other Tefilos at the end. If the Rabbi speaks, 5-15 minutes. Obviously, this can vary, but you get the idea.
It goes without saying that the Chazzan should be using the correct Nusach and not just reading the words. There should be singing and it’s not a competition to see who can Daven faster. Nonetheless, adding up everything using the higher number ends up with 2 hours and 30 minutes. The shortest would be an hour and 45 minutes. I strongly believe that if we kept Davening to an average of 2 hours and 10 minutes, kids would have a much easier time staying in Shul the entire time.
To be fair, if Davening always takes 3 hours, it makes sense to keep it that way. However, if the Shul used to finish in 2 hours and over the past few years it’s been taking longer, the Gabboim should discuss internally. If they are unwilling to do anything, maybe it’s time to switch shuls.
I would like to share one last thought. Rabbi Chaim Follman, a senior Rebbe in the Yeshiva, taught me an amazing lesson regarding children’s Davening. He doesn’t tell kids to Daven. Instead, he shows them what to say, and tells them they have to stay in their seats for a specific amount of time. This way, the children realize that flying through the words won’t gain them any time. I’ve watched him in action, and it’s really fantastic. If certain Shuls began finishing on time, the Mispallilim would focus less on the clocks, and more on the words.
Wishing you all 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.