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Introducing Yom Kippur to Young Children
Apologizing for regretted acts, one of the central components in the honoring of Yom Kippur, is a difficult task. We try hard (and at an early age) to introduce our children to the concept of saying “I’m sorry.” The notion of forgiveness is difficult for children to embrace fully. It is not until later developmental stages that they are able to understand the depth of apologizing and forgiving.
Adults still struggle with communication around forgiveness. It is difficult to approach someone and tell them you were wrong. It is difficult to tell someone they are forgiven, especially when pain from the experience still lingers. Given that, we cannot expect too much from ourselves when we attempt to teach our children the proper way to apologize to someone.
Talking about promises is a simple way to introduce young children to the challenging themes of Yom Kippur. We can all relate to promises – promises that we made to others and promises that others have made to us.
“Mom, Billy promised he would give me his ball if I cleared his dishes.”
“Please, God, help my grandma get better. I promise I’ll listen to my parents if she gets well.”
“If you let me stay on the computer longer this time, I promise – promise – promise I’ll never ask to do it again.”
When promises are left unfulfilled, we feel badly.
When we do not live up to our promises to God, God forgives us. At Yom Kippur, we say “I’m sorry” and we make plans to try harder. What can we do better this year? What do we need to work on this year?
“I can work at getting along with my sister better this year.”
“I can make sure to help someone who is struggling.”
“I can ask the new boy down the street if he wants to play with us.”
This is the path to forgiveness from God. And this is something our children can relate to.
Seeking forgiveness from our friends and family is often more difficult than asking forgiveness from God. Our promises are not always easy to carry out. No one is a first-time listener every single time! We are not always good at sharing. Sometimes, we do not play nicely with our brothers and sisters.
Yom Kippur is the time of year to say “I’m sorry” to our friends and family too. We can ask their forgiveness for anything we said or did that hurt them. We can also tell them how important they are to us and how much we care about them.
We can work on making promises to try harder and do better. We can spend time thinking about it and talking with our family about behavior choices. Parents can model to their children examples of promises.
For example, how many times has your child asked you to do something and your response was - “one minute”? Make a promise – out loud to your child – that you will not be a “one minute” parent. Change won’t come instantaneously. It takes practice. When your child sees you working hard at your promise, making mistakes, and continuing to try – he will be able to do the same with his promises.
Making and keeping promises is an important theme during the holiday of Yom Kippur. It is one of the first steps in the process of learning to empathize with others, of accepting responsibility for our actions, and always working to improve our lives. Spend some time talking about promises with your children – what it means to keep a promise, what it means to break a promise, and what it means to say “I’m sorry”.
If you are interested in reading a book about Yom Kippur and saying sorry, check out The Hardest Word: A Yom Kippur Story by Jaqueline Jules. You can find it on Amazon:
I am sharing this book with you because it sits on our bookshelf, and my four children have all enjoyed it. I do receive an affiliate fee from Amazon when you purchase the book through the link I provided.
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