Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rebbetzin Tzipora Heller
Creating Elul consciousness in the home really begins with our understanding of what Elul means. The Sefas Emes explains that there is a place within Hashem’s infinite reality where his love for us is so great that nothing can touch it. Similarly, there is a hidden spark of ahavat Hashem within each of us that can never be defiled. The theme of Elul is “Ani l’dodi v’dodi li.” Discovering that place of pure love, emunah, and yearning for deveikut within ourselves draws down Hashem’s unconditional love and forgiveness. For adults, Elul is a time to push aside all the trivialities of daily living and get in touch with our deep inner selves through teshuvah and cheshbon hanefesh.
A good way to explain Elul to young children is through a parable. One can tell what something really is by looking at the end product. Following all the directions exactly while baking a cake, will usually yield good tasting results. Similarly, who we were during the year shows up in Elul. Ask the children to pretend that a very important person is expected to visit. You bake a delicious cake but it comes out a real flop. It’s too late to go out and buy new ingredients. Imagine if you could sprinkle a magic potion on the ruined cake and turn it back to its original raw ingredients. You could then bake the cake again and it would come out just perfect. That is the wonderful gift of teshuva. We can go back as if we hadn’t done the mistakes, change it, and make it better once again. In Elul, Hashem gives us a whole month to think about our wrongdoings and correct it. If you hurt someone, you have to say I am sorry. Show them how to do this sincerely. If you took something without permission you have to return it. Go through their things with them. Teach them too how to forgive.
Rosh Hashana is about accepting Hashem’s kingship. Explain to your children how Hashem , our loving king, comes down to us once a year and how we great him with joy and awe. Children also need to understand that there is accountability. Although, most know about the three books that are opened on Rosh Hashana, tell them how every person writes their own story through their speech, actions, and thoughts.
Very young children should not be taken to shul because if they are forced to sit quietly for long periods of time they may come to despise going to shul. Letting them run wild in shul is anti-chinuch. If feasible, take them for shofar blowing and some of the serious parts of the davening such as U’nesane Tokef to increase their yirat shamayim.
During Aseret Yemei Teshuva, encourage children to do more mitzvot. Give them extra coins to give to tzedakah and have them recite short chapters in tehilim.
Introducing the highlights of the Yomim Noraim to older children from the age of ten to early adolescence can be a bit more complex. Take time to speak with them during Elul. Ask them what they would desire more, a fancy camera or to be married to someone they respect. They will probably answer the latter. Explain to them that the pleasure we derive from people stems from seeing their ruchniyut. This is something of the yearning we have for closeness to Hashem. Get them to identify all the gifts and talents Hashem has given them. Tell them that Hashem gives us these things out of chesed and that he expects us to use it well. Let them see your Elul, how you are trying harder and working on yourself. Explain to them that Elul is the time to redefine ourselves, a period of great chesed, where we can once again resolve to make things work. Tell them stories of people who completely changed themselves. Ask them for mechila and encourage them when they express any signs of regret for past misdeeds. The real message of Elul should come through clearly-make your own transformational moments or ask Hashem to send them to you, decide what you want to be, and be it.
Rosh Hashana is a time when we renew our relationship with Hashem by recognizing Hashem’s malchut. This should awaken a certain desire to do and be more. Children can get very distracted by the externals of the day such as new clothing and the simanim. Stories are a good medium to explain “ol malchut shamayim.” Tell your kids to aim for absolute acceptance of Hashem’s kingship. They should understand that our only desire is to do Hashem’s will. In a sense we are telling Him, “Wherever you take me, this is where I want to go.”
Older teens don’t like being told what to do. Share some inspiring ideas or stories you have read. The more indirectly you talk, the more directly they’ll hear it. The only condition though is, you have to “walk your talk”. Ask yourself honestly if you are at the level you want your children to be.Think ahead and plan things out carefully. Ask Hashem to give you the right words, clarity of mind, siyata deshmaya, and credibility, to guide your children on the true and straight path.