I’m sure you’re wondering how to make the upcoming holidays more meaningful for your children.
With all the hustle and bustle involved in getting ready for the High Holy Days, shopping and cooking for a three-day yontif, and outfitting the family in shul attire, we don’t always have the time to prepare ourselves for the auspiciousness of this period in the Jewish calendar.
And what about the kids? How do we help them enter the Yom Tovim with the proper mindset and understanding? After all, the themes of forgiveness, sin, and teshuva (repentance) can seem abstract. They can be hard for children to understand and relate to. So how can we make the Yamim Noraim, the Days of Awe, become more relevant for them?
Here are some practical tips to help kids connect with the significance of these days in an authentic and purposeful way.
First, start out by asking your child the following question: Do you ever feel like you made a mistake and want a do-over? Explain that the holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are our chance to have a fresh start. They offer a clean slate for a new year.
Next, tell your children to ask themselves three simple questions:
- What mistakes have I made this past year?
- What can I learn from these mistakes?
- What do I want to do differently in the coming year?
Let your children know that the Yamim Noraim gives all of us, children and adults alike, an opportunity to hit the reset button. Even very young children can understand the idea of right versus wrong, and friendly behavior versus mean behavior. When we talk to them about how we treat others, we are teaching them the basic concepts that are intrinsic to the Yom Tov message — asking forgiveness and doing teshuva. This is an opportune time to teach young children to reflect on social interactions, both positive and negative, that have occurred, so they can develop a vocabulary of emotion words to help them assess and express their feelings accurately. You can say things like “You must have been sad when you and Anna had a fight and were not friends.” Or “I bet you were disappointed when you didn’t win the spelling bee.”
When parents model healthy communication with their young children, they are more likely to end up with teenagers who know how to articulate their emotions, and how to ask and give forgiveness.
Finally, talk honestly with your kids about your own process of teshuva. Begin the topic of teshuva — regret and apology — by telling them something you did that you feel badly about. Admitting that we adults aren’t perfect, opens the door to allowing children to own up to things about which they might feel badly. These kinds of conversations can also set a precedent for honest and open communication among family members during the year. Kids listen better when we talk about ourselves as they don’t feel like they’re in the “hot seat” and need to defend themselves.
To help concretize these concepts, here’s a fun and meaningful family activity for the Yamim Noraim, borrowed from a camp activity with a similar name. You can prepare “teshuvah-grams” to send to each other — notes that ask individual members of the family for forgiveness about specific acts.
Here are some examples:
“Dear Sarah, I’m sorry I was irritable and lost my patience last night. Love, Abba.”
“Dear Avi, I’m sorry I was on a work call on my phone for so long when you wanted to talk to me. Love, Mommy.”
Teshuva-grams can be extended to include teachers as well. A hand-written note expressing regret for negative behavior would mean a lot to a teacher.
Dear Morah, I’m sorry I was rude to you in class last week. Shana Tova, Dina”
Dear Mrs. Cohen, I’m sorry for talking and distracting the class while you were trying to teach. Shana Tova, Eli.
Let your children experience how the process of self-reflection and self-examination gives us an opportunity to change into who we want to be, so that we can become a better version of ourselves.
Of course, for most children the High Holidays are synonymous with dipping apples in honey, and hearing the shofar. This year, when your children listen to the blasts of the shofar, remind them that the shofar is like a communal alarm clock. It wakes us up and reminds us to examine our actions and to improve ourselves as we clean the slate for the start of a new, better, and sweeter year.
Dr. Tani Foger, Ed.D, is an educational consultant and psychologist; she lives in Englewood with her husband, Soli Foger. Write to her at Drfoger@gmail.com.