Parenting for the Perplexed: Kids issues at the seder a second helping

Rachel Biale, MSW, is a Berkeley-based parenting consultant who has been  working with parents of very young children for more than 25 years. Send questions through her Facebook page: Parenting Counseling by Rachel Biale or via [email protected]

Passover is around the corner. You are probably in one of two camps: either wondering how you’ll ever get everything ready for the seder you’re hosting while keeping the kids excited but not bouncing off the walls, or anxiously wondering how well your child can be expected to behave at someone else’s home: in-laws, grandparents, or friends (in descending order of stress level).

So, maybe you have enough to worry about, but a promise is a promise. Here is Part II of our discussion of challenging Passover issues:

Pharaoh’s decree to kill Jewish baby boys

A terrifying idea for a young child, even if she is a girl! Pre-empt the shock with an explanation you are comfortable with about evil. For a child under 4 it might be something like: “In stories we make someone who is bad so bad, that you can’t even imagine it.” For older children, acknowledging and decrying horrifying decrees of this sort as part of human history — Jewish and not — is probably the best you can do.

Baby Moses on the Nile

Abandoning a newborn baby in a basket on the Nile — another frightening scenario. Emphasize here that it was in order to protect him and that his big sister (accentuate “big”) was watching him the whole time and made sure a good person found him and took good care of him. You might add: “But, of course, this is a very old story. Today Mommies (and Daddies) would never leave their baby.”

We were slaves

Very young children may not understand what slavery is. A simple explanation suffices: “A slave has to do everything his boss (master) says and can’t leave and can’t do anything he wants to do, for his whole life!” Then ask your child how she would feel is she were a slave, and what could she do about it? For children older than 5 or 6, go beyond that, and in a gentle way, tell them that even today there are people who are enslaved (give age-appropriate examples), even though slavery is outlawed.

Moses kills the Egyptian

Moses, our paragon of humanity and justice, kills a man and we just gloss it over and move on with the story! Engage your child in a discussion of what he would do if he saw someone hurting another person. Bring it down to his reality –– hitting, name-calling, excluding a friend from play. Then circle back to Moses: What could he have done instead?

Drowning Egyptians

We’re back to the discussion of revenge. You may focus on the midrash about God chastising the angels for cheering: “My creations are drowning and you are celebrating?” Ask your child who she thinks is right, God or the angels.

Practical issues

Now to the more practical considerations such as sitting still for soooooo long and singing the Mah Nishtanah. Be creative with any of the following:

A substantial pre-seder snack;

Coloring books (or try coloring on matzah — fun, but a lot of crumbs);

A break from the table: Take the kids to do a little romping in another room by re-enacting B’nai Israel packing and crossing the Red Sea.

Design a simple Passover quiz show and/or a huge Exodus “Shoots and Ladders” game on butcher paper taped to the floor.

The Mah Nishtanah: Some kids love the limelight while others find it terrifying. Gauge what’s good for your child. Maybe have all the kids do it together. Or try a duet by the youngest and oldest at the table.

Finally –– a word about clean up. For kids, it can actually be one of the best parts. Make it fun and use it as a great opportunity to model cleaning up after yourself. If the seder ends really late, sacrifice whatever cleanliness compulsions you may have for the educational value of cleaning together the next morning. As my son said: “It be fun!”

Rachel Biale
Rachel Biale

Rachel Biale was born and raised on Kibbutz Kfar Ruppin in Israel and worked for many years as a Jewish community professional in the Bay Area.