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Interactive Parenting Forum featuring
world renown Rabbi Yakov Horowitz

On Davening – Part Three

In response to the questions posted by two parents asking how to better motivate their children (a 12-year-old girl and 8-year-old boy) to improve their davening, we discussed Understanding Tefilos  and Building Spirituality  as pre-requisites for inspired tefilah.

In this column, we will address the issues of:

  • A feeling of connection to Hashem and the faith that our tefilos are answered, and 
  • Age-appropriate settings and expectations for tefilos.  

Yocheved; your question regarding your 12-year old daughter is dramatically different than the one posed by Nachum. For it is clear from your query that your daughter’s disconnect from proper davening is a recent development and a departure from the norm that she established during her formative years.

In order to be able to help your daughter regain her footing as far as her tefilah is concerned, you will need to gain a window into her soul. And that is much, much easier said than done. However, the most effective method to realizing this goal is to offer her a non-judgmental ear.

One of the most important lessons parents ought to keep in mind is that while we are so preoccupied in thinking of what we should say to guide our children, the most important thing we can do is to listen to them. Really listen. That means having the type of relationship where children can discuss what is on their minds – without fear of being subjected to judgmental comments or negative attitudes. This applies to all arenas of parenting children, but all the more so in the arena of tefilah, which is such a personal matter between an individual and his/her Creator.

So, Yocheved; I suggest to you that you open a dialogue with your daughter. Gently bring up the subject of tefilah with her when you are in a relaxed setting and a tranquil frame of mind. Tell her that you see that davening seems to be a challenge for her, and ask the type of questions that send a clear message that you are open to whatever she will tell you. Something like, “Is there anything you would like to talk about regarding your davening?” Or, “I see that your davening seems a bit strained lately. This seems to be a recent development. Is everything OK?” “Are you OK?”

There could be so many reasons for a child (or adult) to undergo a crisis of bitachon, or develop a feeling that his/her tefilos go unanswered, chas v’shalom. But it is quite likely that your daughter is experiencing a challenge of sorts. 

Part and parcel of proper tefilos, let alone inspired and meaningful ones, is to feel close to Hashem and to have bitachon (faith) that one’s prayers will be answered. When one or both of these components are lacking, it is quite understandable the result will be bland, uninspired tefilos or a complete disconnect from the tefilah process.

Where will the conversation lead? No one can predict the answer to that question.

Many years ago, when I served as an eighth-grade rebbi, a talmid of mine simply refused to daven. During the entire shachris prayer, he would sit silently, wearing his tefilin – but not participating at all in the davening. This behavior was in stark contrast to his classroom attitude, where he was engaged and doing well in his limudim. After observing this behavior for a few weeks, I called him aside one day and gently explored with him the reasons for his disinterest in davening. At one point in the conversation, he was silent for a few moments. He then shared with me that a close relative of his was ill several months prior to our conversation, and that my talmid passionately davened for the full recovery of this individual, ... who subsequently died. Suddenly, the missing piece of the puzzle fell into place.    

As we noted in the closing lines of a previous column, parents should not be concerned that they will “be stumped” by a difficult question that their children may pose. We need not know the answers to these complex hashkafah questions. After all, our greatest talmidei chachamim and neve’im (sages and prophets) grappled with the matters of how humans, with our limited understanding, can gain insight into Hashem’s world.

Your role as a parent is to allow these issues to be aired out and discussed, and to guide our daughter to those who can help her find answers to her questions.

Two final notes on this: You may also want to compliment your daughter for her honesty. Others would have taken the path of least resistance and simply pretended to daven. And, Yocheved, you too, deserve kudos for not being oblivious to your daughter’s lack of enthusiasm for davening, and for taking the time to explore solutions.

Nachum; your question is much easier to answer. You wrote that your son “quickly gets bored after about fifteen minutes of davening,” and that your wife keeps telling you to “lighten up” with him and not subject him to such a long davening in shul.

Nachum; please tell your wife that I complimented you – on marrying a wise woman. Please do ‘lighten up’ with him.

Twenty to thirty minutes is usually the range of time that your son spends davening each day in school. You will be well served to have him keep his routine of davening exactly what he recites in yeshiva – regardless of what the adults are davening in shul. Speak to your son’s rebbi if you need more details. After all, if you eight-year-old son is restless in a shul setting that is 2-3 hours long and geared to adults, that is a sure sign that he is a normal child. How long would you sit still while listening to people conversing in French all around you (assuming you didn’t speak the language)? I know there are ‘other kids’ who sit nicely next to their fathers. Please look the other way, and don’t compare your son to them.

Here are some practical suggestions:

  • Consider having your wife bring him to shul later in the morning.
  • Bring along some books for him to read when he is done davening.
  • It may be far wiser for you to bring him to mincha instead of shachris. He will have the shul experience in a much shorter setting.
  • Best of all; please consider organizing a youth minyan in your shul. I am aware that in the more ‘yeshivish’ and/or ‘chassidish’ shuls, youth minyanim are not the norm. I think that is unfortunate. They are far more child-friendly and frankly better chinuch for children. (If anyone in your shul ridicules this suggestion, why don’t you ask him why third-graders in your son’s yeshiva don’t daven with the beis midrash bachurim all week long!!)

And, Nachum; buy your wife flowers for Shabbos, and thank her for advocating on behalf of your son. 
Best wishes for continued nachas.

© 2006 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved



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