Blessing the children

One of the most moving Shabbos traditions is the blessing over the children given on Friday night:

Father (or mother) puts both hands on the child's head and says the blessing:

The Blessing for a Son:

English: May God make you like Ephraim and Menashe

Tranliteration: Ye'simcha Elohim ke-Ephraim ve'chi-Menashe

Why?

Just before he dies, Jacob blesses his two grandsons, Ephraim and Menashe. He says they should become role models for the Jewish people in the future.

On that day Jacob blessed them, he said, "In time to come, the people of Israel will use you as a blessing. They will say, 'May God make you like Ephraim and Menashe'." (Genesis 48:20)

Ephraim and Menashe did in fact become role models worthy of emulation. Unlike those before them, including Cain and Abel, Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, and Joseph and his brothers, Ephraim and Menashe were not rivals. Rather, Ephraim and Menashe were brothers united by their drive to perform good deeds.

The Blessing for a Daughter:

English: May God make you like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah

Tranliteration: Ye'simech Elohim ke-Sarah, Rivka, Ra-chel ve-Lay'ah

Why?

Each of the matriarchs has qualities that qualify them to be role models.

The matriarchs were strong and laudable women. They endured difficult home lives, hardships in marriage, infertility, abduction, envy from other woman, and difficult children. Nevertheless, these righteous women, through their individual passion, their partnerships with the patriarchs and their loyalty to God, succeed to build a nation.

After the above blessing is recited for a son or daughter, parents continue with this blessing for both boys and girls:

English:

May God bless you and watch over you.
May God shine His face toward you and show you favor. 
May God be favorably disposed toward you and grant you peace.

Transliteration:

Ye'varech'echa Adonoy ve'yish'merecha.
Ya'ir Adonoy panav eilecha viy-chuneka.
Yisa Adonoy panav eilecha, ve'yasim lecha shalom.

And don't forget to kiss your child!