Question: Is there a halachic requirement for children to pray three times a day, namely, Shacharit, Mincha, and Arvit? Similarly, is it correct to bring children to the synagogue during the High Holidays?
Answer: The Mishnah (Berachot 20b) tells us: “Women, slaves, and children are obligated to pray.” Rashi explains that since the purpose of prayer is to request mercy from Hashem, our Sages instituted it even for women and children. This means that although according to the letter of the law, it would seem that women should be exempt from praying since it falls into the category of “Positive time-bound Mitzvot” from which women are exempt (as Shacharit is prayed in the morning, Mincha in the afternoon, etc.), nevertheless, the Sages obligated women to pray since they are also in need of Hashem’s mercy just like men; thus, there is not enough of a reason to exempt them from this Mitzvah. We have already discussed this elsewhere.
Based on this, children, who are also dependent on the mercy of Hashem, are also obligated to pray. Just as it is a Mitzvah upon adults to educate and train their children regarding all other Mitzvot, it is also incumbent on adults to educate them regarding this Mitzvah, for regarding all Mitzvot, whether Biblical or rabbinic in nature, one is required to train one’s children to perform them so that they may become acquainted with them; the Mitzvah of prayer is no different.
Since, regarding the Mitzvah of educating one’s children to perform the Mitzvot, there is no distinction between Torah and rabbinic commandments, it would thus seem that although the Torah obligation is to pray only one prayer daily and indeed women are only required to pray once daily, nevertheless, young boys should be trained to pray three times daily: Shacharit, Mincha, and Arvit.
This was indeed the custom of Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”lwho would educate his sons to pray all three daily prayers as soon as they learned to read (Yalkut Yosef, Tefillah, Volume 1, page 508).
Girls should be trained to pray at least once a day, preferably the Shacharit prayer which includes in it the Birkot Ha’Shachar(morning blessings), Keri’at Shema, and the Amida prayer. (When reciting the Pesukei De’Zimra and the blessing before and after Keri’at Shema, girls and women should omit the name of Hashem from the blessings in these places, as we have discussed in the past.)
Nevertheless, we must point out that if the father notices that this is overburdening the child, one must be exceedingly careful not to make the child revolted by prayer. A parent must always consult with wise and experienced educators as to how much a child should be expected to pray; one should start by training the child with one prayer in the beginning, then two (meaning Shacharit and Mincha), and only then should he start training him to pray Arvit.
Regarding the age that one should start training his children to pray, the Peri Megadim writes that the proper age is from the age of six or seven. What this means is that every child must be individually evaluated based on his intelligence, talents, and maturity, for not every child can handle praying three prayers a day immediately upon being taught to read. Every child must be judged by his own capabilities, characteristics, and level of understanding, until he reaches a point when he can be expected to pray three times a day through happiness and serenity.
Since the High Holiday prayers are longer than usual, although older children should certainly be brought to the synagogue to pray in order to educate them in the Mitzvah of prayer, younger children should nevertheless not be brought to the synagogue. If one brings his children of five or six years old who are brought to the synagogue in any event, one should make certain to take them home after a while, for in most cases, such young children are unable to sit quietly for hours on end and their presence in the synagogue will certainly disturb the prayer of other congregants.