Rabbi Ross. My oldest son is in 5th grade, and he’s a good boy. The issue I’m having is with his Davening in Shul. He has no desire to go to Shul on Shabbos morning even thought his siblings come. My wife and I have tried begging, arguing, and even prizes, and he’s still resisting. I’ve always dreamed of having my sons standing beautifully next to me in Shul. What can I do? Anonymous – Woodmere
There are many fathers that share your dream. What could be more perfect than Davening in Shul next to your children and passing the torch of Yiddishkeit onto the next generation? Regarding your situation, I can tell you without even analyzing the situation, that begging and arguing won’t work. I’m not even a big fan of prizes. Although rewarding children occasionally is a great idea, I know some people that are constantly bombarding their children with gifts for everything they do. You washed Negel Vasser? Here’s a prize. You made a Bracha? Here’s a treat. Boy are these kids in for a shock when they get a job! (“I completed the TPS report…where’s my prize?”)
The love for Davening starts when the child is still in the mother’s womb. If the mother says Tehillim, Davens, (I know it’s hard to find time when there are other kids), and talks to HaShem, her children will already have it ingrained within them.
The next stage is when the child is from one to six. This is the age that he is a sponge. He’s soaking in the attitude that his parents are displaying. Does the father come home from Shul complaining every Shabbos? “The guy Davening Mussaf schlepped unbelievably, and it took forever!” How about, “The Rav kept going and going, he just likes to hear himself speak!” Your child hears this, and Shul becomes associated as a negative thing.
Another huge issue is punctuality. If Davening begins at 8:30, don’t start getting ready at 8:40! If you really care about something, you’re there on time or, dare I say it, even a little early. Announce that you’re leaving to Shul at 8:15, and tell your kids, “We don’t want be late!” It’ll sink in that Shul is a special place, and we can’t be late. My Zaidy, Alter Baruch A”H, used to walk over ½ mile (with bad knees) to be in Shul for the 8:30 Shacharis. We would arrive at 9:25, and my Zaidy was already there.
When are your kids are ready for Shul? When they’re in 1st or 2nd grade, I would suggest starting to take them on Friday night because it’s not a long davening and even more so, they can appreciate a beautiful Kabbolas Shabbos. You shouldn’t give them a snack (Snacks should be only for a long Davening), but they can bring along a few Jewish children’s books. Make sure they understand that they can’t talk at all – and obviously we’re assuming you’re not talking either. If they are bored or fidgety, they are not ready yet - try again in a few months.
Your goal is for your kids to see you loving and enjoying davening and looking inside your siddur. You should sing along, and get your child involved. If all goes well, you can then start Shabbos morning Davening. I would suggest that you bring along snacks, as well as books since Davening is much longer. Watch him closely to see if he is getting bored or antsy, and if so bring him home. You can compliment him on the way home. “Wow! You were amazing! I’m telling Mommy and your Rebbe what a beautiful job you did!” This will help him develop an even greater excitement and a desire for Shul.
When the Rav speaks, your son should not be allowed out to play outside. Once you start the “going out” concept, it’s very hard to re-acclimate. If he can’t manage the drasha yet, bring him home. If you want to play it smart, tell him, “When you’re a little older, I’ll let you stay in Shul longer.” If he complains that other boys are playing outside, tell him “A Shul is a place to talk to Hashem. and learn Torah. There are other people that are not fortunate enough to understand how special that is. IY”H they will eventually learn. But you can certainly stay home and play, if you would like.”
Before you read this next paragraph, please remember this is my personal opinion. I’m sure there will be many people that disagree.
Another thing I’m not fond of, is youth groups. In theory they sound great, but experience has taught me that they are very often just glorified babysitting. While there are exceptions, it seems that the transition from groups to Shul is much more difficult than people realize. They go from kiddie groups, to children’s groups, to mini-Minyamin and then Teen Minyanim. I don’t believe kids need this, and I get the feeling it’s just a convenience for the parents. I don’t want to elaborate, but unless your Shul is one that encourages the transition to the regular Minyan at a young age, I would stay away.
Another way to teach your children the importance of a Shul is by dressing appropriately. Understandably, not everyone has a minhag to wear a heat and jacket. However, it is of utmost importance to look clean and neat and wear special clothing for Shabbos, even at Mincha on Shabbos afternoon. When a person comes into a Shul all disheveled and untucked, it’s a very bad example for his children. Show your children at a young age that when you Daven, you dress the part.
Incidentally, this article is for boys and girls. It might be more difficult for mothers to take their daughters to Shul, but many Shuls have no problem with the girls Davening with their fathers until around the age of seven. At that time, they can go alone into the women’s section.
Now let’s analyze your original question. Your son does not want to Daven in Shul? That’s fine. Don’t allow him to come to Shul. Take control of the situation. Go to Shul with the younger or older ones, stay for the Kiddush, and come back with a huge smile talking about what a great morning you had. Take your other kids for ice cream the next day if possible, to celebrate their Davening in shul. The goal is not to reward them (certainly don’t tell them about it beforehand), it’s to make this child realize that he’s missing something amazing.
When he complains that he didn’t know you were going to reward the “shul goers”, you can tell him “Davening in Shul is a special treat. I’d love for you to join me and be a part of this special group. I hope you go with me this coming Shabbos!” On Shabbos morning, you can ask him one time if he wants to come, and that’s it. Don’t make a big deal about it, just privately convince the other kids to go with you. If he decides to stay home, your wife should not play any games with him, or keep him occupied. Let him be bored. She should not keep harping on the Shul issue, just let him help set the table, and prepare for the meal.
You have another excellent choice, and that’s to use your son’s Rebbe. Call him and tell him the issues you’re having. He should talk to the class about the importance of davening in the Shul, and maybe even ask the class “Who Davens in Shul?” You can also ask your Rav to get involved, if you believe he has a close relationship with your son. If so, he shouldn’t mention you (the parents), rather he should say something like, “I wish I saw you in Shul on Shabbos, it makes my day so much better!”
Here are a few tips to help your wonderful children develop a love for Davening in Shul. This list is not meant for kids that just don’t like or appreciate Davening as that’s a similar, but separate, issue.
Hashem should give you all much Nachas from your wonderful kinderlach and all of our Tefilos should be accepted. 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.