For adults, Yom Kippur is a day of fasting and davening. Obviously, this it is different with young children. Expect that your Yom Kippur will not be full of deep davening and introspection; right now your young children are your priority, a holy task.
It may not be the easiest day of the year; with advance planning and a ‘can do’ attitude, both the mother and father can have a meaningful and spiritual Yom Kippur. As a couple, work out how to get in some davening on behalf of the family, fasting and attending to the safety and well-being of your children.
Planning and discussions in advance is key; when you are fasting, your creativity and patience fly right out the window. Additionally, you’ll have enough time to benefit from insights from others or a conversation with your Rav about your particular situation. And you can make orders or arrange for items that you might need.
With a few ideas worked out before Yom Kippur, your day and that of your children can be meaningful and relaxed. Here we provide some suggestions. You know yourself and your child best and the way you want to celebrate the yom tov. Plan with your child in mind.
To husbands: Keep in mind that taking care of children is always hard work. Then add in the fasting, the messing up of the kids’ daily routine, no electronics to distract the children. And then, perhaps, your wife’s desire to daven a bit. Yom Kippur is a very hard day with young children. Do all you can to make the day as easy as possible for your wife and children.
Generally, the father goes to shul to daven on behalf of the family, and the mother stays home with the children. As such, the next tips are directed to the mother.
Expect that you will not be able to daven the full davening. In this way you will not be disappointed when you actually cannot daven all that much, and happily surprised if you can.
You might plan to daven after putting the kids to sleep – Kol Nidrei/Maariv and Neilah.
Just as every morning, at least get in your morning brachos before starting your day with your child(ren).
You might sing aloud a few Yom Kippur songs with your child on your lap or sitting near you.
Going to Shul
If your child is old enough to walk to shul (and back).
It is good chinuch for your child to spend some time in shul – just soaking in the atmosphere and hearing some of the davening and singing. The father or mother can take the child to shul.
Help your child create memories. Point out and talk about the various nuances of the Yom Kippur service. Point out the kittel, white peroches, and the non leather shoes.
Prepare in advance a few key Tefillos or lines from the davening or songs that you want to say with your child. You might mark those in your machzor.
Find out if your shul has a program for preschoolers and if you will have to join them the whole time or for part of the time.
Before yom tov, bring a bag of food and small toys and books to keep your child occupied while you are in shul. Small cars, quiet travel games, fidgets, repositionable ‘stickers’. If you are bringing a new toy, make sure it is something he knows how to use, so he doesn’t have to keep asking you or get frustrated.
Most preschool age children cannot sit quietly for that long, even with a bag of snacks and a stack of books. Be prepared to leave shul when your child begins to become antsy.
If your child has made his own machzor, bring that with you so your child can remember and talk whisper about what he learned in school about Yom Kippur.
It always helps to have a few special treats for the occasion – something to occupy him; these can also be used as an incentive for proper decorum. Perhaps, you can choose these treats together and pack them together. You can include some neat, quiet snacks – not too crumby or crunchy or sticky (winkies work well). Bring hand (Shabbos) wipes just in case, and extra tissues, empty (quiet, non-rustling) bags for your trash. Bring more of everything than you think you’ll need. Also bring a water bottle or two.
Keep them well fed
Plan for hungry, somewhat bored children. Have lots of snacks on hand – precut fruit, pretzels, or the like, prepared in portion size containers or baggies. Prepare before yom tov.
You can also prepare food so that they can make their own sandwiches (for example, peanut butter on rice cakes with a spreader). This becomes an activity for them and a meal – a twofer.
Prepare sandwiches before Yom Tov. Or put some food on the blech or in a crock pot.
Keeping them occupied while you fast
Expect a mess; a more peaceful Yom Kippur is worth it. It might take you an hour at the end of the day or the next morning to clean up. You can enlist the help of others in the house too.
Pull out different toys throughout the day. (Someone suggested a box of tissues and let their creativity soar. Post its are also fun for kids.)
Bring out some toys your child will be excited to play. You may want to do a toy swap with a friend – to bring a new toy to your child.
You know your child; what toys will (most likely) keep him occupied for a while – puzzles, magnatiles, legos, cliks, trains. You might add a new element to their old toys – a new car for their legos, a station for the trains.
You might also inspire their playing with some pictures of things they can possibly build or patterns they might copy. Here are a few you might print out or show your child before Yom Tov. clics building ideas lego building ideas magnatile abcs magnatiles numbers
Throw some sheets over your dining room chairs to make a tent. Fill it with books and pillows, or favorite toys. Or let the kids use their imagination about how they can use the space.
Get some new books – that they can ‘read’ themselves. You can borrow from a library or swap with friends.
Alternate with another adult
Perhaps you can get a babysitter for a few hours to watch the kids when you go to shul, or rest. Perhaps your neighbor* can bring her kids to you for a few hours, and then you bring your kids to her. *sister, friend, etc.
Yeah, bribe them.
It’s one day a year, it’s OK. Promise them something wonderful if Mommy has a peaceful day.
Tell them about the plan before. You might print a picture of the ‘prize’ as a visual reminder.
Before Yom Tov, talk about what Mommy is hoping for (“Mommy can daven while kids are playing quietly with toys”) and what the day schedule will look like (naps, reading, playing). Together, come up with what they will read and play; and then always be flexible during the day of Yom Kippur. You might print the schedule so your child can follow along; in this way, it is the schedule, not you, who is telling them what they should be doing.
Be careful to not count the negatives that they might do (nagging, interrupting). If that number gets too high, the child will feel discouraged about getting the prize and might give up in middle of the day.
It is hard to keep up with tracking points for behavior. Instead, you might give them a status of how Mommy is feeling right now. “Mommy is very happy with how you are playing so quietly; I am able to daven.” “Mommy is beginning to feel frustrated with the noise here; what can we do to keep the noise level down so Mommy can be in a relaxed mood?”
Note: This article does not address extenuating circumstances (difficult or late pregnancy, newborns, special needs children, difficult fasting, etc.) In such situations, you might speak to others in similar circumstances, your mashpia or a Rav.
Wishing you a most meaningful and relaxed Yom Kippur.