Question:

How can I get my young children excited about saying their prayers every morning? How do I get them to stop making those awful faces when I ask them to open the prayer book? My husband is in the synagogue and I usually am finished with my prayers by the time they wake up.

Response:

Did you ever talk with the children about why we pray? I don't mean sitting them down for another lecture. I mean, for example when you read them a book or talk at the dinner table—at whatever opportunity—just bring up the idea that there's a G‑d who is always with you and He's very eager to hear whatever is bothering you. Sure, He already knows all about you, but He really likes it when you talk to Him about those things. He says, "Whatever is bothering you, I like to hear about it straight from you."

Ask them what's the most common word in the prayer book. They'll come up with all sorts of things—maybe it's G‑d, maybe it's "bless," maybe it's "praise." Point out that it's the word "You". And then tell them that really every word in the siddur is the word You—because the whole idea of prayer is that G‑d is standing right there, and little i am talking to Big You.

Now a few other practical points.

1. In teaching children, what we do is so much more important than what we say. Kids need a walking, talking, living example—and who could be better than Mom and Dad themselves?

So may I suggest, first of all, that you NOT finish your prayers before they wake up. Letting them see how important prayer is to you - and that you're excited to pray - is the strongest message that you can send them. Pray together with your children.

2. Do your children attend day schools? Then they will certainly have tunes and songs for various prayers. Encourage them to sing out loud all the songs they know. Let them teach you their songs. Sing along with them.

3. Don't overdo it. I would guess that 10 minutes of prayer is enough for a first grader; 20-25 minutes for the 10 year old. You have to know each kid. Some kids naturally resonate with saying prayers out loud from a young age. For others, saying anything at all is a great struggle. Appreciate the struggle.

4. Get them to sing their prayers. It's so much more fun that way!

5. Finally, is there any reason why they are not at synagogue? Many synagogues have special youth programs where they incorporate prayer, stories, games, Shabbat treats, etc. Children usually love going to these programs.

It's wonderful to see that these things matter to you. If they do, then feel confident that they will matter to your kids as well. It just takes time and tenacity. But sincerity always rubs off in the end.

Chaya Sarah Silberberg,
Chabad.org