Most often translated as “The Day of Atonement”, Yom Kippur is a complex and sacred day. Even most grown-ups struggle to understand the meaning of much of the liturgy.
Many of us grew up reading from siddurs (prayerbooks), deciphering archaic English words that translate the even less understandable Hebrew words. We rarely had the opportunity to grapple with the true meaning and application of “atonement.” Life would be much easier if we were able to prepare for the big questions our tiny humans ask us. Many parents of young children struggle to feel confident navigating religious and spiritual matters because we feel like novices ourselves. Thankfully, we’ve got access to an enormous selection of literature on these topics if we are able to look with a wide lens and an open mind.
I’ve taught my kids that a critical element of an apology is a change in behavior to avoid the same misstep. These children’s storybooks that are indirectly about Yom Kippur have been tools for me as a parent. They help me to feel equipped to address how, why, and when to shift away from judgment, resentment, and dysregulation with my little kids so we can each turn towards our highest, best selves.
I love that Judaism gives us an annual check-up on how we’re working towards being our best selves. The lofty ideals in our machzors (high holiday prayerbooks) are also life skills that we need to practice just as much as our little ones. These books have helped me step up my game as a parent while also helping my kiddos step up their game as the kind of big kids they are growing up to be.
It’s Okay to Make Mistakes
I was delighted when I discovered Todd Parr’s It’s Okay To Make Mistakes because I think it is a perfect way to frame the essence of Elul in an age-appropriate way with young children. In a way that resonates with their grown-ups too :).
Todd Parr has a brilliant knack for simplifying big ideas and making them accessible to kids and their grown-ups. His messages are simple, his illustrations charming, and his words resonate with readers of all ages. (if you need to explain Yizkor to a kid- The Goodbye Book is a great frame for the conversation- I keep copies on hand whenever I make a shiva (condolence) call for any kid who might be impacted by a loss, which is really a tool for their grown-up, who is inevitably struggling with how to support the kiddo through their process.
When I’ve led Yom Kippur services for families with young children, I read It’s Okay to Make Mistakes aloud in place of a ‘sermon,’ and I’ve only gotten positive feedback.
I’m a kid’s lit nerd, so when I found out that I could send Todd Parr a request for a personalized reading of one of his books on Cameo, I practically swooned! I asked him to read his book in honor of the New Year, and he sent us this personalized message!
When I share this book with kids and families, I utilize a ‘choral reading’ strategy. First, I’ll gather those with whom I’ll share the story and explain that I’ll read one side of the book and that they’ll work together to read the other side aloud as a group.
It’s similar to a ‘responsive reading’ found in many contemporary prayer books.
So it sounds like:
Leader: It’s OK if you spill your milk
Group: You can always clean it up
Leader: It’s OK to try a different direction
Group: You might discover something new
To raise kind, collaborative, and resilient kiddos, it is essential that we actively model how to repair a ruptured relationship again and again.
Of course, one book is never enough, so if you are looking to flesh out your kid’s library with stories that can help them understand self-regulation, self-reflection, and forgiveness, here are some books to check out:
The Do-Over Day by Julia Inserro and Miro Tartan
This adorable and relatable children’s book is about surviving the worst day ever.
The main character teaches her grandmother about a ‘do-over day.’ She explains it as a process of personal reflection through which she identifies ways that she could modify her behavior and/or expectations to improve future experiences.
My kids and I discussed how the daily maintenance of the things that we want to happen differently is the best way to be ready to grow into our best selves.
The Not So Friendly Friend by Christina Furnival and Katie Dwyer
I love the way this book clearly models a thoughtful way to respond when someone teases or bullies you.
The lead character beautifully models a process in which she experiences another person’s unkindness and processes the steps she needs to take to resolve the challenge that everyone faces at some point.
She stands up for herself and
How she wants to be treated
And does so respectfully
She doesn’t get heated…
With boundaries in place, healthy friendships can grow
You’ll have fun and feel safe, with your heart all aglow
I’m so glad that my kids are learning the concept of boundaries at an early age. It is a process that I’m confident will serve them well.
I’m frequently frustrated by other people’s apparent inability to understand and respect this critical concept. So I’ve dedicated myself to reducing that friction in the next generation.
Miles Got Mad by Sam Kurtzman-Counter and Abbie Schil
Miles gets mad when his little brother breaks his toy in this cute, cartoonishly illustrated story. When he catches his reflection in the mirror, he notices that he’s become a furry red monster with big eyes and funny teeth.
To soothe himself back to his best self, Miles practices self-regulation techniques.
I like to pair Miles Got Mad with Sesame Street’s “Belly Breathe”. This video is always a huge hit, and the strategy is a solid one!
Nurture their development
If you want your children to understand Yom Kippur and be able to participate in the associated rituals and traditions, nurture their development of the social and emotional skills required to resolve a disagreement at every opportunity.
Then, you won’t have to “teach” them how to say sorry on Yom Kippur. Instead, it will simply be an opportunity to celebrate a skill you’ve helped them hone in your everyday interactions.
Reflecting on Yom Kippur and looking for additional resources to help you support your kiddo’s understanding of Yom Kippur? Read Stop Teaching Kids That This Holiday is about Saying “Sorry,” a piece I wrote and Kveller published.
Seeking musical tools to help you make meaning and memories while you explore Yom Kippur? Check out 10 Yom Kippur-ish Songs for Early Childhood.