How to Talk to Kids About Brit Milah
Cut and dry?
Speak to their developmental level.
This conversation should be relevant to your child's developmental stage; avoid overwhelming concepts. While each child’s development is different, these are some general guidelines for what is age-appropriate:
· 3 Years and Younger
Children at this age pick up on emotions around them. They sense their parents' anxiety and are comforted by their parents' calm. Tell them what is happening in very simple terms the day before the bris.
· 4-6 Years
Children this age may have heard of or been to a bris before. To prepare them, ask what they have heard about a bris. Based on what they tell you (both verbally and non-verbally), you will be able to steer the conversation in a useful direction that addresses their understanding or concerns.
Your own reasons for having a bris will guide how you frame the discussion (e.g. "We are going to have a bris for your baby brother because it is a mitzvah,” or, “a bris shows that the baby is a Jewish boy").
Explaining the procedure itself is vital so that children do not become frightened by something they see or overhear. You can give a simple explanation: "A baby boy is born with an extra piece of skin on his penis which is very small, and at a bris it is removed right before he is given a Hebrew name."
If children show concern that the baby will suffer, you may add, "the mohel who does this procedure is trained like a doctor and it's his/her job to be careful and gentle. Even though the baby cries a little, he is okay and mom will nurse him/give him a bottle right after the bris." For extra reassurance, you can remind kids that they sometimes cry when they go to the doctor to get a shot, but then they are okay too.
Children at this age learn through repetition, and may need to hear the same answer a few times. They will likely ask many questions so it's important to be open to follow-up questions.
· 7-9 Years
Children at this age begin to be much more aware of their peer group and their values, and they may raise questions around the particularistic nature of a bris, especially if you live in a mainly non-Jewish community. You might want to explain that a bris is a ritual unique to Jews, even though their non-Jewish friends might have had another procedure called a circumcision in a hospital.
The question about why boys have a bris and girls don’t may also come up. It's helpful to bring the conversation about a bris back to anatomy ("boys have a penis, and girls don't"), while adding that there are many kinds of naming ceremonies for newborn girls.
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