The idea of bringing kids to temple can be overwhelming and stressful and every congregation has a different tolerance for kiddo noise and squirms. I have been bringing my kids to services with me for a long time and also teach religious school, so here are some of my recommendations for making it easier.
1. Prepare Them – Far to often I realize that I’ve assumed my kids have world experience, that they just don’t have. Now I try to make them familiar with what they’ll see during a temple service, who will be up on the bima, and what your expectations are of their behavior.
These would be my temple basics:
- There will be a Rabbi (maybe you could meet him/her ahead of time)
- There will be a cantor who sings
- Some prayers will be in Hebrew, it’s a different language so you might not understand
- On the bimah is the ark, it houses the Torah.
- There is an eternal light.
- During the service we’re going to use our quiet voices, so that everyone can concentrate on listening to the Rabbi, saying and singing the prayers.
- If you get really squirmy during the service, we can go out and take a walk.
- After the service there in an oneg where we get to eat cookies.
2. Dress Up – Wait, what? I’m gonna schlep my kids to temple and I have to get them all dressed up. Listen, do what you have to do to survive, but here’s my pitch. Going to temple is a special thing that is important to me, so I want my kids to feel that. Getting all dressed up is a way to show respect for the place and a signal to my kids that this is a place where the expectations are different. I also think that other congregants will probably be a bit more tolerant of my kids if they look cute.
3. Participate in the Service – This can come in all different forms for all different kids at all different ages, but anything is better that sitting there and staring at the ceiling. I make sure my kids have their own prayer book, we turn the pages together, we sing or sway with the songs, stand up and sit down together.
4. Give Them Your “You’re Doing a Great Job” Face – I give my kids a lot if silent signals when I’m trying to have them behave properly and if I’m not careful, they could all be negative ones. I’ve had to make a conscious effort to give my kids a big smile and a squeeze when they’re doing a great job.