I have a found there a few factors involved when it comes to a getting a child to stay in shul and attempting to daven. I am not a parenting, chinuch, or educational expert. I am just a regular guy and these are my observations and what has, so far, worked for me. Of course, if you child cannot behave in shul, then they really are too young to come to shul (regardless of age). In no particular order the factors that I’ve observed are:
- Seeing adults who take davening seriously: This means no excessive talking and very little DADD (davening attention deficit disorder)
- Understanding that coming to shul is a privilege: It’s a special treat to get to come and daven to Hashem
- Appreciating that shul is a mikdash me’at: Instilling an idea of the kedushah of a shul is key (see this post)
- Positive peer influence: While we can offer direction, our children’s friends truly are influential
- Having davening incentive programs in school: A child needs to know that what he is doing is being observed and rewarded
- Having slightly older role models: Being able to look up to someone, even a grade older, can give a child someone to look up to
- The candy man- As my son’s 4th grade rebbe told us a parent orientation, “You’d be amazed what your children will do for a gumball.”
Unless you started reading biographies of gedolim since infancy to your children, most of them are not so keen on staying in shul for all of davening. I can’t blame them. Most rabbis that I spoken with or parenting shiurim I’ve listened to suggest letting a child stay in for “as much as they can handle”. My son has been going to shul on Shabbos morning with me since he was 3. He has, for the most part, been sitting with me, davening what he is comfortable davening, and until he was 10, going to groups.
On Shabbos I daven in a very nice hashkama minyan that regularly has between 45-60 halachic adult males, of which 3 are between 13-17. This minyan isn’t a heavily kid populated (mostly because it’s at 7:30), but the minyan is very kid friendly. Currently including my son there are about 5 other boys in 4th-6th grade. We have davened there for almost 6 years my son has always left the beis midrash right before haftorah and then, if I’m lucky, resurfaced by Adon Olam. About 5 weeks ago I made the observation to him that of the 6 boys in 4th-6th grade, there are 3 that come back in for musaf. I asked him if he’d be interested in coming in for musaf and staying until the end of davening for 3 weeks and as a reward we’d go out for pizza, just he and I.
He agreed and after the second week of going out for haftorah and then returning before Ashrei, he actually stayed in for the haftorah and didn’t even leave. B’li ayin hora, he has been staying in and doesn’t seem to mind. Now, my son and his father are far from perfect, but we are both aware of what’s expected of us.