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How To Ensure A Calm And Meaningful Seder With Children

By: Dr. Haym Dayan

Of all the preparations for the holiday, ultimately, what really matters most to us are our children. Below is a short guide – a few minutes of thought and planning can create an educational, calm, and happy family atmosphere for the holiday. It’s recommended to focus on one or two points from the list.

What can be done to help children participate in the Seder properly? How can we prevent situations that can disturb this potentially inspirational evening? The Seder can be a significant challenge for children: late hours, having many stimuli in the background, excitement, smells, sounds, sensations, tastes, unfamiliar people or new places. For children with ADHD, this can be a significant challenge. Preparing in advance can be extremely helpful.

Prioritize: Use the priority traffic light system and define the “green” behaviors that you will turn a blind eye to, “red” – requirements that you have decided to enforce authoritatively, and “orange” – areas where you will find solutions that are closer to your expectations but take into account the child’s difficulties; things that you will respond to in a softer way and compromise on. The clearer your priorities are to yourself, the clearer it will be for children and the easier it will be for you to respond in real-time.

Schedule in advance: Think in advance, what do you expect from your children? Why is this important to you? How do you do that? Is the expectation clear to you, is it justified to insist on it, is it feasible?

Accordingly, coordinate expectations with the children. If you think breaks are needed during the Seder, coordinate the times in advance and make sure they have something to do during those times.

Insist that the children make an effort to maintain the rules and a pleasant atmosphere, emphasize to them that this is their responsibility, but also their right to be partners in a successful Seder. As far as it is clear to the parent, it is easier for the child to implement. Think in advance what the main challenge is for the child and determine what to do. Communicate the instructions in a simple and focused way, and make sure you are understood correctly. Complex, ambiguous instructions invite confusion.

Delegate roles that will give the children leeway and an honest sense that they are partners and important, for example, to organize, serve, pour etc. In addition, this will enable the child to use excess energy in a positive manner.

Honestly admire a good statement or behavior: Give frequent, but sincere compliments. Give meaning to the child’s effort, even if the achievement is not perfect. Good behavior should not be taken for granted. A positive outlook comes from looking at the cup which is half full. Therefore, the Haggadah begins with “מִתְּחִלָּה עוֹבְדֵי עֲבוֹדָה זָרָה הָיוּ אֲבוֹתֵינוּ”…

Prepare interesting content. Give thought to things that might interest your children, stories, riddles, activities, and chiddushim according to the children’s ability to understand and their interests. The younger the child is, the simpler and more tangible content he needs.

Let go from yourself: Your parenting is not being tested right now. Nor is the attitude of the children towards you, towards your investment or towards what is important to you. Remember that a child sees things differently. Do not compare children, each has its own abilities and advantages. Avoid an overdose of “maror” and a sense of Pesach victimhood… focus on the main thing.

Calm down yourself: Try to come to the Seder table calmly. If things get out of hand, calm yourself down first. Pressure from the parent increases the restlessness of the child. Use inner speech, positive thought, deep breathing or any other technique that helps you increase self-control and set a calming example.

Manage, do not succumb to disturbing external factors, maintain an internal focus of control, both emotional and practical. Keep a relaxed vigilance for possible mishaps such as friction with another sibling or early signs of restlessness in the child. Respond ahead of time, don’t wait for the child to reach his limit.

Remember that the Haggadah speaks about four sons. The one who tends to interfere and test boundaries is not evil. He is the wise man who just does not know how to ask and ask in the conventional way. The most important task is for the children to leave this night with a positive experience, with connection, identification and love for everything that this holiday brings. The rest will be completed later.

And how is it possible without the eleventh commandment, the most important and simplest, do not forget that YOU love them the most. So even when things go wrong and they are likely to go wrong here and there, remind yourself that you love them and due to your love, you want to impart to them as much of the beauty of the Seder as possible, each child according to his strength and capacity.

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