Elul is a time for introspection. We should all take time to look back at our year, see how we did, what we learned and how we can use our experiences to make a better version of ourselves for the coming year.
The month of Elul is also an important time to teach our kids about looking back in order to better ourselves. We need to remember that kids do not learn from our well-meaning lectures, because kids don’t like being told what to do. The best way to teach kids anything is to tell them what you are working on, talk about yourself, your struggles and your concerns about Elul.
You can tell inspiring stories or what you have learned at the dinner table. If your child balks, turn to your husband and share it with him. This is called indirect teaching. Rebbetzin Tzipporah Heller says: “The more indirectly you talk, the more directly they’ll hear it.” You also want to make sure that you are modeling appropriate behavior. Kids don’t do what we say; they do what we do.
Here are 3 simple strategies to have a meaningful Elul so we can be models of living Torah for our kids.
1. Take Elul Seriously, But Not To Seriously:
As observant Jews we are prone to be very solemn about Elul, as we should. In our eagerness to do the right thing we might take too much upon ourselves. When we do this we tend to lose momentum because our kabbalot were unrealistic and overwhelming. My son’s Rebbe told him you should take one special Kabalah for Elul and then only do a quarter or even an eighth of it.
It reminds of the Elul that I told myself that I would have kavanah for the whole of Birkat Hamazon. Unfortunately I could not keep that kabbalah; I barely had time to eat, let alone bentsch. I decided that I would say the first Bracha with Kavana; that did not work either as my mind has a terrible tendency to wander! I then decided to say the first line of bentsching with kavanah. That I was able to do.
I try to share this story with my kids during Elul to remind them to keep their goals for Elul, reasonable and achievable.
2. Make it deeper:
I go to a wonderful shiur given every week by Rebbetzin Barkin. During the month of Elul she recommends not to take on anything new but to deepen the mitzvot that you are already doing. Have you been asked to join a Tehilim group this year? Don’t take on more tehilim, try to say the ones you already have been assigned but do it with more kavanah. Maybe you can even learn it with your favorite Parshan so that you can understand it better.
We can also focus on all the mitzvoth that we are doing every day that seem to be just mundane tasks. If you are diapering a baby, focus on the fact that your are doing the mitzvah of raising children. Are you mopping the floor for Shabbat? Focus on the fact that you are doing a mitzvah of preparing for Shabbat. Do you call your parents? notice that you are doing the great mitzvah of Kibbud Av Veem.
Then tell your kids what you are doing in a non-confrontational way.
3. Have a Goal setting session:
In the past few years, my husband and I have sat down together during Elul and went over our goals for the coming year. It has been eye opening, in a good way, for both of us. I am pleased to say that we share many of the same values and goals.
After we were done, we thought that it would be a great idea to do this with our kids.
This was met with much suspicion, one son said, “Are you making us do this because Mommy teaches parenting classes?”
Needless to say it did not go over as well as we thought it would. However, I do console myself with the fact that even though the idea was met with opposition we were still sending a strong message to our kids. That is, that their parents think goal setting during the month of Elul is an important and meaningful activity for us. Hopefully just knowing that we do it, they will copy our actions one day.
Elul is an important month in the Jewish calendar being that we are preparing ourselves for Rosh Hashanah and the coming year. Yet, it can be handled in practical ways. Not overstressing ourselves, going deeper into our current goals and setting ourselves up to achieve what we set out to do can help Elul be meaningful to us and our kids.
Adina Soclof, MS. CCC-SLP, works as a Parent Educator for Bellefaire Jewish Children’s Bureau facilitating How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk workshops as well as workshops based on Siblings Without Rivalry. Adina also runs parentingsimply.com.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.