My 11-year-old son is resistant to staying in shul for davening on Shabbos morning. Davening takes almost two and a half hours, and he can’t sit still for that long. He davens for an hour and then wants a 15-minute break. He goes outside and plays with other kids in the shul, and then comes in a while later and davens some more. Every week his break is longer. My wife and I are heartbroken since we raised him to appreciate the importance of davening. Any help would be much appreciated.
Shul is for davening. I’ve written this before and I’m sticking to it. If your son wants to take a “break” from davening, he should be brought back home. You certainly shouldn’t act upset at him, nor should you tell him off. Simply say, “It’s fine if you want to play, but shul is only for davening.” The one person who really teaches the kids to daven is the mother. She’s the one who instills in the children the importance of davening, and even inculcates within them a love of tefillah. I know many women who never get to go to shul on Shabbos, but they’ve raised some amazing children. It’s a sacrifice, but it’s well worth it.
What’s the problem with letting kids play for a bit? I personally know many teenagers who were allowed to run outside and play when they finished Shemoneh Esrei when they were younger. Now, they’re 15+ years old and they still run around during davening. There are exceptions, but if children grow up thinking shul is a place to play, it’s hard to change that mindset.
Your email brought up a second interesting point. What used to be called “ants in the pants” or “no zitz fleish” is now called ADHD. Yes, I’m certainly generalizing, but many kids (and adults) have shorter attention spans these days. Some people blame it on electronics, others on our diet. No matter what the reason, children these days have a harder time focusing on and sitting through davening.
The oddest part about this is that Shacharis on Shabbos in many shuls now takes longer than it used to. I recall that davening in many shuls took approximately two hours for Shabbos davening, and now, as you pointed out, it’s almost at 2½ hours. What changed? I asked about 20 different people, ranging from rebbeim to businessmen, and got similar responses. They all agree that Shabbos davening has become longer over the years. No one had any clear-cut reasons, but they all shared their thoughts.
So what is it? Possibly the ba’alei tefillah are taking longer. Maybe the rav is speaking longer. More MiShebeirachs? Leining is slower? In any case, I don’t think it’s a good thing. If we want our children to stay in shul and daven, we need to be more understanding. Those extra 15–25 minutes are hard for kids who are already at the tail end of their limit.
I sat with a few gabbaim who broke down their ideal timing for Shacharis. It should be 25–30 minutes for Pesukei d’Zimra; 20–30 minutes for Shacharis; 35–50 minutes for leining; 15–20 minutes for Mussaf; 5 minutes for Anim Zemiros and other tefillos at the end. If the rabbi speaks, it should be for 5–15 minutes. Obviously, this can vary, but you get the idea.
It goes without saying that the chazzan should be using the correct nusach, not just reading the words, and there should be singing; it’s not a competition to see who can daven faster. Nonetheless, the total Shabbos morning davening duration would be 2 hours and 30 minutes, based on the higher time estimations above. Sticking to the shortest timeframes would mean that davening would be an hour and 45 minutes. I strongly believe that if we kept davening to an average of two hours and five minutes, kids would have a much easier time staying in shul the entire time.
To be fair, if davening always takes three hours, it makes sense to keep it that way. However, if the shul used to finish in two hours and over the past few years it’s been taking longer, the gabbaim should discuss it internally. If they are unwilling to do anything, maybe it’s time to switch shuls.
I would like to share one last thought. Rabbi Chaim Follman, a senior rebbe in the yeshiva, taught me an amazing lesson regarding children’s davening. He doesn’t tell kids to daven. Instead, he shows them what to say and tells them they have to stay in their seats for a specific amount of time. This way, the children realize that flying through the words won’t gain them any time. I’ve watched him in action, and it’s really fantastic. If certain shuls would finish on time, the mispallelim would focus less on the clocks and more on the words.
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.