We were trying to pass the time in the car by playing word games. We’d already exhausted “I Spy,” and that one where you have to remember all the items that everyone brings to a barbecue or party or some entertaining event—and in a particular order, no less. The radio stations had gotten fuzzy in a stretch of the road dotted with farmland and so to make conversation, I asked: “OK, everyone. What’s your favorite Jewish holiday and why?”

I thought IWe were trying to pass the time heard a couple of sighs, but the youngest chimed in quickly enough.

Chanukah!” he announced, which was not surprising (latkes, gelt, gifts and colored candles). The oldest then said, “Passover for me.” Again, not unexpected. (All those from-scratch meals and good company around the seder table.) The second-oldest pondered the question for a few seconds before answering, “Shavuot.” (He’s a fan of warm weather, fresh starts and all things dairy.)

The car grew quiet. I turned around to look at son No. 3, who was staring out the window as black-and-white cows flashed by.

“What holiday do you like most?” I repeated in his direction.

His response threw me for a loop.

Yom Kippur.”

“Really?” I paused. “Why is that?”

“I dunno. The fasting, maybe.”

Now, this boy just turned 10 and hasn’t had to fast before. He barely ate anything last Yom Kippur, I noticed. But no, this had to do with something more than just food.

Think of it, for kids, repentance is not a one-day affair. For them, every day comes with its own drive to succeed, to improve, to give a little more and shoot higher. In school, they need to perform on tests, cooperate with their classmates, write neatly, raise their hands more, do the extra credit, finish their lunch on time and don’t forget your jacket. They constantly seek validation from teachers and parents, and are consistently expected to own their behavior.

In fact, one of the first complete sentences they learn to say is “I’m sorry.”

We adults, however, have one very introspective day and tend to move on.

Of course, there are other serious holidays and other fasts during the year. But Yom Kippur is the biggie. And let’s face it, we don’t dwell on its lessons daily; humans just don’t, they can’t. Though we should.

After all, who doesn’t need a little self-improvement? Who doesn’t need to be reminded to be calm and thoughtful, patient and productive, deferential to your boss and to play well with our colleagues at work? We don’t really forget, but we let it slide—or worse, we let our emotions take over, and get edgy and frustrated, peevish and proud. Often, we take it out on others, even our children, who are trying so hard to overcome their own natural self-involvement to please the adults in their lives.

The goal is to remind ourselves to be, well, repentant. There are so many positive things we can do to keep the spirit of Yom Kippur with us. We can invite guests to Shabbat and holiday dinners, visit the sick in the hospital, pack food donations at a community center or attend a Torah class. We can be like elementary-school children and aim to do more.

To help a friend. To offer someone a ride. To ask nicely. To pitch in.

From a parenting perspective, I’m reminded to ease up a bit. So his penmanship isn’t perfect, and he lost his gloves. He didn’t write three more sentences on that book report and said something snippy on the school bus. The point is that he is aware of it all, and is trying to write and find and exceed and hold back.

If only weI’m reminded to ease up a bit adults could do the same. If only we Jews could do the same.

We’ve had some issues in the past.

When servicing his flock after fleeing Egypt—the Israelites, who desperately needed inspiration and encouragement (and truth be told, some self-discipline)—Moses wisely noted that “our journey is just beginning.” Maybe that’s something we need to remind ourselves regularly—something inherent in children because they really are just beginning.

The cows were now interspersed with horses and silos.

And the car remained quiet as we all stewed over that last “game,” the holiday question. We were contemplating the idea of Yom Kippur as a favored time (with no food at all to savor). In fact, we were humbled, and we kept our eyes on the horizon.

I turned my head back to No. 3 and smiled.

“Good answer,” I said.

And then we got back to business. “I’m going on a picnic, and I’m bringing ... ”