Many weeks ago, you sent an article about Davening in shul which I thoroughly enjoyed.  However, going to Shul is not the issue in my house, it’s Davening. My children (boys and girls from 3 – 13) have no desire to Daven, and it really bugs me. I always Daven well, and make sure not to talk or disturb others during Davening. My wife does not Daven, since she is involved with the kids. What can I do to make my children Daven without forcing them? Yehoshua D. – Woodmere

Yehoshua, this is an excellent question. You made so many great points in the question, including that you Daven well (which is so important for your kids to see), and that you don’t want to force your children (which rarely works). There are many ingredients to achieving good Davening, and we’ll try to analyze which ones generate more success with children.

I’ve always believed that the best time to start teaching children about the importance of Davening is when they’re toddlers. Making a Bracha and Bentching are great ways to inculcate within them the importance of thanking and communicating with Hashem. It’s not just making the Brachos, it’s your attitude. As the Gemara in Brachos says, “we don’t want it to be a burden”. Therefore, 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.”

The next component of teaching davening is the mother’s influence. It’s so interesting how non-Jews think that Yiddishkeit is male centric.  It’s the exact opposite. A Jewish mother is not just a mother. She’s also a role model and a Morah. The love she displays as she does Mitzvos is ingrained within her children forever. The way she Davens and communicates with Hashem will become the foundation of their Davening as they grow older.

Although I’m sure that every mother wishes she had the time to Daven, we all know that free time is hard to come by for any mother.  A Jewish mother has a lot more on her plate (pun intended).  However, she can still instill within her children the importance of Davening. It’s an attitude. Sitting down with the kids to say Modeh Ani, making sure they all washed Negel Vasser, and even saying Brachos together with them, are all so very important. 

Additionally, when a mother says Brachos, she can say them out loud and teach her young children to say Amein.  One mother told me that during Birchos Hashachar, she verbalizes what she’s about to thank Hashem for in English, and then makes the Bracha.  For example, “Now I’m going to thank Hashem for giving me eyes that are able to see”….for Pokeach Ivrim.  This helps the children internalize that davening is not simply saying words.  Rather, it’s about truly talking to and thanking Hashem, recognizing that everything is a gift. 

Another huge ingredient is the Yeshiva. It’s the job of the Yeshiva to show your children how amazing it is to have a connection to Hashem. They should motivate your kids to Daven better at home, in Shul and obviously in Yeshiva. They shouldn’t be making it a battle either, rather they should make the kids excited about it Davening. On the Parsha sheets that are sent home, it should ask the parents to notate how many times he/she Davened and/or went to Shul.

The next step, is the father. Does he come to Shul on time? Let’s look at it this way. If there were a huge football game going on between the Jets and the Giants, would you turn on the TV a few minutes late?  Of course not! There’s the pre-game, the Pre-pregame, and the interviews.  Lehavdil, when you come to Shul, your kids are analyzing you. Do you come a few minutes early and take the Davening seriously? Or, C”V do you show up late and catch up with friends before opening a Siddur?

All of these components (the mother, father, Yeshiva and environment) must be consistent in order to successfully and positively influence our children.  It goes without saying that regardless of our efforts, the most important ingredient is our Davening for Siyata Dishmaya in the raising of our children. We need to Daven that our children appreciate the importance and value of Tefilla.

Enjoy the tips below, and as always, use your judgement. What works for one family might not work for a different family.

  1. Not every child Davens. It’s OK. It doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong as a parent. Keep doing the right things, and IY”H  they’ll Daven eventually.
  2. Don’t force your child to Daven. This never works. It’s similar to telling your child, “Go apologize.” It’s not sincere, and they’ll resent the Davening.
  3. Using the occasional reward to motivate young children can be helpful and exciting.  Here’s an idea, try telling your young children on a Shabbos morning, “Is your Davening going to be a 1, 2 or 3 jellybean Davening? At the end of their Davening, let them decide how nicely they Davened and pick the amount of jellybeans they think they have earned.”
  4. If you ask your kids to Daven at home, don’t assign specific Tefilos. Rather, base it on time. “Take 15 minutes to Daven what you know, like a Ben Torah.”
  5. Explain to your (age-appropriate) children that Davening is an important and private meeting between them and Hashem.  They can Daven and say to Hashem whatever they feel they need to.
  6. It’s important to express to our children that communicating with Hashem is not limited to Davening.  There are so many ways to impart this message.  Saying, “Thank you, Hashem for this amazing parking spot.”  Or expressing to your children, “Thank you Hashem for helping me today with…”, are merely two ways to accomplish this. 
  7. Don’t compare your children. Some will Daven better than others. It’s not a competition, Hashem listens to each one of them.
  8. It’s always a good idea to buy your children a personalized Siddur that’s age appropriate. It gives the Davening a Chashivus.
  9. If your children are Davening at home, don’t let them Daven in their PJ’s. Being dressed appropriately is usually a prerequisite to Davening properly.
  10. When inviting a friend for Shabbos, make sure that he’s a good role model. You don’t want your son to learn bad Davening habits.
  11. Similarly, when letting your child go away for Shabbos, make sure that the home he’s going to takes Davening seriously.
Have a great Shabbos, and Daven well!
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