Davening Challenges and Children

Renowned chinuch expert Rabbi Michoel Gourarie of Sydney, Australia addresses readers’ questions on all things chinuch.

Question

We have two boys ka”h. On Shabbos, I bring them to shul to daven with me and here is where the issue begins. One boy davens with a chayus and enjoys it. The other one does not. His eyes quickly wander and he is not concentrating. This can go on for a while and he can miss important parts of davening. I give him gentle reminders from time to time, but they usually don’t work too well. Either he subconsciously ignores it or he davens for another minute or two and goes back to “daydreaming”. After davening is formally over, I sit with him and make sure he davens the main tefillos

When I question him about this, he says he does not enjoy davening. Can you please guide me in this delicate situation?

A Concerned Father

Rabbi Gourarie responds: 

This is a long and complex topic; the following are just some brief comments.  

Firstly, please know that you are not alone. Both parents and schools constantly struggle with Tefila. The Zohar says that Sha’as Tzlosa Sha’as Krava – the time of Davening is a time of war. On a simple level this could be telling us that Davening is a struggle. Children particularly find the endless recitation of  words, most of which they don’t understand to be very challenging. 

So what can we do about it?

In my experience, one thing that doesn’t work is when fathers have the children next to them and incessantly nudge them to look inside and say each word. This can turn davening into a negative and painful experience. It is very difficult to pull  someone (especially a child) out of daydreaming by force.  

Don’t get me wrong. I believe it is critical to teach children kabolas ol. Torah values don’t change and teaching (what the Friedike Rebbe refers to as) folgen un a farvos (following without asking why) is still the basis of chinuch.

However, one must bear in mind two things: 

  1. It must be supported by a positive relationship with your children and a culture of chayus and simcha in the home.
  2. ‘Kabolas ol’ training needs to be set up for success. This means choosing the right things to enforce- things that have the highest chances of succeeding. Usually, this means a clearly defined task that has a beginning and an end, and that doesn’t take too long to complete. Looking inside the siddur and saying every word of Davening doesn’t qualify.  


With that introduction, let me share a few suggestions. 

  1. Know your child – different children have different levels of tolerance and attention spans. Not all nine-year-old children can spend the same amount of time in shul. 
  2. Plan ahead – discuss with your child an age-appropriate and child-specific time to be in shul. Start with the areas of davening that are more responsive, such as chazoras hashatz. Explain to your child that it is a non-negotiable expectation that for that agreed-upon time he must remain in Shul next to you. 
  3. Encourage – at the beginning of the time the child is in shul gently show him the place and encourage good davening.
  4. Set an exampleDon’t keep asking him to look inside and don’t make him daven parts he was weak on after shul has ended. Just daven yourself and be a Dugma Chaya of what serious davening looks like. He will gain much more  from a positive example and environment than from being constantly told to look inside. One of my sons (who today is BH a good davener) used to sit next to me and would read “The Little Midrash Says” instead of davening. Today he knows the stories of Tanach very well and he Davens. 
  5. The right Shul –  make sure to daven in a shul where there is no talking and the kehillah takes davening seriously. Your example is not sufficient. He needs to be immersed in a wider culture of proper davening
  6. Farbreng – Find times during the week or on Shabbos to discuss davening and tell stories of chassidim who were known for their davening. Mealtimes are especially good for this. Show him videos of the Rebbe davening, always looking inside a siddur. The makif of these discussions and stories is very powerful. 
  7. Positive reinforcement – Whenever you see him davening,  point it out afterward with the appropriate praise and recognition. 


Wishing you lots nachas! 

Rabbi Michoel Gourarie is the founder and director of BINA, an educational institution for adults in Australia. Having served for many years as a teacher and principal, he is now a sought after chinuch consultant and teacher trainer. To send a chinuch question to Rabbi Gourarie, email inbox@anash.org.

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