Question: My 8-and-a-half-year-old son has recently become disinterested in davening and bentching. When I try to let him know (without pressuring) that “It’s time to bentch now,” or “Let’s take 10 minutes to daven before we have the Shabbos meal,” he responds that he doesn’t want to or isn’t in the mood. I tried giving out “bentching treats” to the children after bentching, but now this child uses it as a condition that he will only bentch if I give him a good treat, and this just doesn’t feel like good chinuch. How can I bring excitement and enthusiasm to these areas that seem like a burden to my son?
Answer: I love the way you ended off your question. Excitement and enthusiasm are key elements in chinuch. Doing mitzvos should never feel like a burden.
Additionally, the issue you brought up regarding rewarding positive behaviors is a real one. Many parents and mechanchim make this common mistake, and the result is always the same. When you reward children for doing something correctly, they will require a similar or greater reward for each subsequent occurrence.
Here’s a simple example: A counselor in a sleepaway camp has a camper who refuses to eat the camp food. There are a few solutions available, including ensuring that this child doesn’t bring snacks to the lunchroom, helping him decide which foods to try, or even enlisting the help of a senior staff member. If this counselor decides to reward the camper for eating, the camper will never eat without being rewarded. Although a small reward seems like a quick fix, ultimately it’s a step in the wrong direction.
In any case, your question mentioned two separate issues — davening and bentching. I would rather discuss bentching in this column since that’s what you seem to be focusing on as well. Here are some tips that might help you out. As always, some of these might be more useful than others.
- Instead of saying, “We need to bentch now” or, “Did you bentch yet?” you could say, “Let’s bentch to thank Hashem.”
- It’s important to keep in mind that, even as children mature, it’s better not to ask them if they have bentched. They might view this as a challenge or test. Instead, try handing them a bentcher and saying, “Here’s a bentcher.”
- If you have family meal (on Shabbos, for example) and you have a specific child who didn’t bentch well, bring it up at the next meal. You can say, “Before you wash for bread, I need you to remember that you need to bentch afterwards. Last night, you didn’t bentch so well, and I would rather you not wash for ha’motzi unless you’re sure you’ll be able to bentch.
- It’s important that the parents use a bentcher when they bentch. If your kids see you looking inside, they’ll likely do the same.
- Although there isn’t a specific amount of time it should take to bentch, it’s a good idea to bentch somewhat loudly so your kids get an idea of how much time to spend saying the words.
- Enlist the help of your child’s rebbe. A good rebbe can motivate the whole class to make berachos like bnei Torah.
- Bentching is connected to hakaras ha’tov. After a meal, you can announce, “After we thank Mommy for the yummy meal, let’s thank Hashem!”
- Bentching is a berachah acharonah. There are many other berachos that should be focused on as well — Al HaMichyah, Borei Nefashos, and even Asher Yatzar. Being consistent is a great way to parent, and you should focus on all of these berachos.
- Whereas rewarding children for expected behaviors is a bad idea, it’s always a great idea to compliment them for a job well done. If your child does an exceptionally good job reading the words inside the bentcher, give him a shout-out.
- Lastly, there are some fabulous books written that discuss the rewards for bentching slowly and inside a bentcher. I suggest picking up a few of these and leaving them around for your kids to read.
Wishing you and your family much hatzlachah.
Rabbi Yitzie Ross is a well-known rebbe and parenting adviser. To sign up for the weekly emails and read the comments, visit YidParenting.com.