How to Prepare Your Loved One for the High Holidays
Posted on 09/04/18 by Milestones
As many families prepare for the Jewish High Holidays, it is important to consider ways to help your child with special needs have the best experience during the festivities. Milestones co-founders and parents Ilana Hoffer Skoff and Mia Buchwald Gelles are prepping for this hectic time of year themselves, and put together a quick list of tips to help you as you get ready for the upcoming holidays.
Familiarize your child with the holiday traditions - Specific music, phrases and foods help define each holiday. Begin introducing these to your child ahead of time so they become familiar with what to expect. Consider using one of the many recordings, YouTube videos, or wonderful children’s books about Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot to preview the holiday celebration. For example, if your child is sensitive to loud noises, prepare your child by listening to a video of the shofar (ram's horn) in advance. The whole month leading up to Rosh Hashanah, synagogues around the community are blowing shofar at the end of their morning service and this is a nice opportunity for them to hear the shofar, in a much smaller setting, and be prepared for it.
Visit the synagogue in advance - Typically many more people attend services for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur than at other times during the year. Thus, many synagogues are set-up in a different way to accommodate the increased attendance with more chairs in alternate rooms. Some children may find these changes unsettling. Prepare your child by visiting the synagogue in advance. It takes a lot of work for a synagogue to get ready, so a few days before the holidays the rooms are typically already set and it might be helpful to visit with your child in advance, before it is filled with people.
Meet the children's program coordinators - Bring your child to meet the person coordinating the children’s programming before it starts. Gather information about the program schedule and activities. Also share information with the coordinator about your child and any tips that will help make the experience a success.
Pick and choose what to participate in - Services for the High Holidays tend to be long, so it is important to understand what works well for your loved one with special needs: this includes thinking about what they enjoy, what times of the day are better for them, and what would work best for their schedule. You can find out from the synagogue the special programming they have and plan your day to meet your loved one’s needs. It may be a good idea to pick and choose what time to attend based on the timing of a children’s service or other fun activities.
Create a visual schedule - For young children, creating a visual schedule with pictures can go a long way. For example, you can get a simple drawing or a photo of a shofar, a prayer book, apples and honey, and other things planned for the day. Also on the schedule, you can check off when you’re done with each activity. The schedule is something that you can use and modify based on whether the child is able to read or if they need pictures instead. This schedule is something you can use repeatedly and modify, and it is tangible, so they can hold it. Your child or loved one can take it with them and use it as a reminder that they can reference.
Bring appropriate snacks and back-up activities - Children can get hungry frequently, so have some appropriate snacks on hand (pack fresh fruits or vegetables or check with the synagogue about Kosher requirements). Also be prepared by bringing some quiet activities as a back-up. If there is waiting time and your child needs something to keep their attention, you can have quiet activity books, such as a sticker book or a picture book to flip through, or a quiet toy that they can play with.
The above article was produced with extended content from an upcoming article in the Cleveland Jewish News by Becky Raspe.