R'eih for Tots

R'eih, Deuteronomy 11:26–16:17

D'Var Torah By: Ellen and Peter Allard

For you are about to cross the Jordan to enter and possess the land that the Eternal your God is assigning to you. When you have occupied it and are settled in it, take care to observe all the laws and rules that I have set before you this day.

-Deuteronomy 11:31-32

Woke up/fell out of bed/dragged a comb across my head..." sings Paul McCartney in the well-known Beatles tune "A Day in the Life." This simple lyric covers three different activities involving a transition from one to the other. Merriam-Webster's online dictionary defines the word transition as "a passage from one state, stage, subject or place to another: CHANGE".

In Parashat R'eih, we find the Israelites on the verge of crossing the Jordan River into the Promised Land, a land they've been traveling to for a long time. With a huge transition about to take place, God gives the Israelites time to prepare for the big change. The Israelites are instructed to first occupy the land and settle in the land, and then to "take care to observe all the laws and rules..." The language of this verse suggests that God foresaw the importance of giving the Israelites the time they would need to be ready to follow God's law.

Like the Israelites who were facing a huge transition in this parashah, we deal with many small transitions every day. As adults, we have had a lot of practice handling change. For young children, however, change and transition can be a major hurdle in dealing with everyday life. How many transitions do you think your children have to move through before they get in the car to leave the house on a typical school day morning? A couple? Five? Eight? Let's take a moment and consider a possible scenario. Each step listed below involves a transition, whether large or small:

  • Wake up
  • Get out of bed
  • Brush teeth 
  • Wash face
  • Choose clothes to wear that day
  • Get dressed
  • Put pajamas somewhere (under pillow, in hamper)
  • Choose breakfast
  • Eat breakfast
  • Bring dish to sink and/or put in dishwasher
  • Retrieve backpack
  • Put on jacket
  • Get in car

Thirteen. And this list doesn't include any other activities that your child might have been involved with at some point during the morning. Playing with toys, using the bathroom, talking on the phone to Grandma-each of these can be added to the list of activities that involve a transition, moving from doing one thing to another.

Transitions or changes are the inevitable stuff of everyday life, whether the changes are large or small. The way in which your child adjusts to going from one activity to another can often have a significant impact on his or her behavior. One of the ways you can help your child make smooth transitions is by understanding that consistency breeds familiarity. And for young children, it's all about familiarity. Structure and routine help a young child feel safe and secure, and this is a key to a young child's healthy development.

There are things you can do to help your child move or transition smoothly from one set of circumstances to another or from one activity to another. Here are some ideas:

Transition Rituals and Routines

When a child knows what is about to happen, this knowledge will add greatly to his or her feelings of security. For example, establish a waking up and going to sleep ritual which might include reading books or singing a lullaby or saying a prayer. (We talked about teaching your child to say theSh'ma prayer upon waking and going to sleep in parashat Va-et'chanan.)

Transition Markers

A sign or warning that a transition is about to come can be helpful, as the element of surprise can add to the stress of transitioning. Yellow traffic lights let you know that the light is about to turn red-it gives you a sign of what's about to happen. In the same way, you could use a sign or marker to let your child know that a change is about to occur. The sign could be as simple as "five minutes and then it is time to put your toys away." Or you could have a particular song that you sing. Here's an example using the melody to Old Macdonald:

Time to put your toys away, one two, one two three

Time to put your toys away, one two, one two three

With a plunk plunk here, and a plunk plunk there

Here a plunk, there a plunk, everywhere a plunk plunk

Time to put your toys away, one two, one two three


And you can use the same melody for other transitions by simply changing the words:

Time for you to brush your teeth, one two, one two three

Time for you to brush your teeth, one two, one two three

With a brush brush here, and a brush brush there

Here a brush, there a brush, everywhere a brush brush

Time for you to brush your teeth, one two, one two three

Transition Objects

Many children derive a great deal of comfort from their attachment to a particular object, whether it is a stuffed animal or a toy truck. We knew a child who, when read to or held, would gently rub her mother's earlobe between her thumb and forefinger, not unlike when a child rubs the silky tag on his/her blankie. Be aware of this: If your child is particularly drawn to one of these objects, make sure that the object is with them when transitioning from home to other environments.

Transition Strategies

Some children need to be eased into the change from one activity or environment to another. This might involve walking them into their preschool classroom and might even require sitting with them for a few minutes before you leave. Speak to your child's teacher and ask him/her to help you come up with the steps that best meet your child's need when it comes to transitioning.

And of course the way that you handle transitions will greatly influence the way in which your child handles them. The bottom line is that we all need time to adjust to changes in our lives. The first step is to have an awareness of the steps required in making the change or transition. The next step is easing the transition and thus providing the support system needed to help make the move from one set of circumstances to another. In Parashat R'eih, God had high expectations of the Israelites for following God's rules and laws. As we can see from God's example in this parashah, everybody can benefit from a chance to adjust to new situations and therefore more easily meet expectations.

Questions and Ideas for Parents:

  1. What is it like for you to wake up in the morning? Are you ready to go the minute you awake? Do you need some alone time before you can interact with other people?
  2. Do you have any rituals that help bring you a sense of comfort?
  3. Do you have any rituals that are specific to your family?

Questions for Children:

  1. Do you have a special stuffed animal or toy that you like to have with you all the time?
  2. When you go to sleep, is there special music you like to listen to? Or a special song you like to have your mom or dad sing to you?
  3. Before you go to school in the morning, what are the things you do in order to be ready to leave your house? What are the things your parents need to do in order to be ready to leave the house and take you to school?
Reference Materials

Pages 1259-1275 in The Torah: A Modern Commentary Revised Edition, by W. Gunther Plaut.