As parents, we all want the best for our children. We have aspirations higher than mountains for them and often project onto them all of the goals we have not been able to attain for ourselves. This lofty intention is wonderful- it is praiseworthy to want our children to be better than ourselves; but how do we give the young seeker what they need to excel? Insha’Allah, these few tips will give us food for thought as to how we can help our little ones blossom into their fullest potential!
What exactly do we want for our child(ren)? What kind of person do we want them to become? These questions are an essential starting point for us to consider. Let us really and truly think about what our objective is and how we can holistically aid the development of those entrusted to our care. I vividly remember one of my neighbors who migrated for the sake of Allah and sent her children to an Islamic school. Alhamdulillah, they spent their days reciting and memorizing large portions of the Qur’an but when they would return from school, they would not even return the salaam! They would drop their backpacks in the middle of the living room and plant themselves in front of the television or play violent games with their toys. Is this the etiquette of a haafidh? Let us strive to inculcate a love, awe, adherence, and respect for the Qur’an, alongside the virtue of its memorization.
There’s no good to be realized without the permission of Allah, so let us pray sincerely for what we desire for our families and seek the guidance of Allah in what’s best for us. There are many stories of parents who, themselves, were not righteous or learned but they were sincere in their supplication and Allah honored their sincerity, making their children more righteous or learned than themselves. Let us not forget this essential tool of the believer! As my dad always says, if a farmer wants tomatoes, he plants tomato seeds. Let us sow the spiritual seeds of success by turning our hearts to our Creator.
It is said that young children absorb their environment starting from their first home- the womb. The fetal development of a mother who is happy, healthy, and loved is unlike that of the mother who is miserable, malnourished, and stressed. Once our little seeker emerges into the world, they are eager to explore the faces of the familiar voices they heard while in the womb and the environment in which they are situated. Let us fill our homes with a sense of security and serenity so that our young children can explore their environment with confidence and trust. Let us also not fill our homes with chaos, clutter, and constant chatter. Early skills of concentration and focus need quietude and a simple, yet beautiful home to discover.
Once our little seeker knows that their family unit and nesting place is safe, they are ready to emerge- to squirm, crawl, walk, and explore. Many parents dread this newly found mobility but, for the child, it is an essential component of their self-formation. If we can make our homes child-proof, our youth will be free to explore their abilities, knowing that they are confident and capable.
For busy parents, it is very tempting to give our children lots of entertaining toys or prop them in front of various forms of media. Even educational television programs cannot compare to the real-life interactions with others around them. Let’s seek to engage, not encage our children. Yes, some toys and DVDs will hold our children captive but will they be captivated? Simple wooden blocks or puzzles, playing in sand or water, or creating games with peers free our young seeker’s mind to think and problem-solve.
After absorbing the environment, a child begins to imitate the actions of the adults in their environment- not only what they do, but how they do it. What activities are we giving our children to imitate? Are they praiseworthy or blameworthy? How do we go about the activities of our daily lives- with the remembrance of Allah and complete attention or in a harried, hurried manner? Parents in the home set the early template for what their children become.
Along with imitation comes the desire for routine, rhythm, and order. Many parents and teachers can affirm that a child’s behavior is much more reasonable when there’s a general routine to be followed. Significant and constant changes in a child’s rhythm often create anxiety, frustration, and stress. Children also feel more secure when they know what role they play. Assigning tasks and responsibilities, even if it takes time to teach them properly, helps a child to know that they have a function in the family, which is a precursor to having a function in the community. A child’s participation in family life helps them to feel purposeful and responsible. This is an important aspect of maturation and community building. I’ve seen mischievous children “straighten up” when kindly asked to do a chore before dinner or help an adult do something useful. Many young children want to contribute but do we give them adequate opportunities to do so? This self-affirmation and understanding of purpose helps a young seeker to do all their tasks, including study, with determination and confidence in their abilities.
Another very sensitive matter for young children is their diets. It’s very hard for young children to focus when refined sugars and processed foods have their blood sugar rising and falling all day. Children need foods that will nourish their bodies, feed their brains, and give them energy. The preferred foods for children include fresh fruits and veggies, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats (like nuts, avocados, olive oil, seeds, etc.). Paired with lots of water and limited processed foods and sweeteners, we give our children a dietary model for success. Please note that children do not need lavish meals or to eat excessively; however, whole, simple meals, made with love and the remembrance of Allah, and healthy snacks throughout the day with abundant access to water will help them to physically rise to the challenge of learning.
Encouragement and a parent’s satisfaction are huge motivators for little ones. A warm smile and sincere embrace affirm for a child that they are doing something right by you. It takes time for children to understand morals, rights and wrongs, for themselves; they are mostly looking to your response as an indicator. The lack of encouragement and attention when a child is doing well may cause a child to “act out” to get the attention they are seeking. This is one of many reasons to pause before disciplining a child. If discipline originates from the word “disciple”, then we should aim to reform and rectify our children’s behavior by giving them a beautiful, prophetic code of conduct to emulate and imitate, a warm smile, and sincere words of admonition. Over-praising your child is not encouraged because they may become praise-seekers or have a false sense of their place in the larger world. The world does not and will not revolve around them, no matter how glorious, brilliant, and wonderful they are believed to be. However, we should not hesitate to celebrate praiseworthy accomplishments. Celebrations highlight significant events in our lives and our little ones can be encouraged by such occasions. A celebration doesn’t need to be a huge party with lots of fanfare- a family outing, a dinner with friends, or a special dessert are adequate when shared with loved ones. I know of families who have celebrations for each juz their child memorizes and even younger children will aspire to accomplish similar feats.
Not every person of knowledge is a teacher, so when we seek out educational institutions for our children we need to examine the environment, objectives, and style of those we entrust our children to. After entrusting your child, the work is not over! Teaching is hard work and teachers need the support of parents and communities to help serve your children! If everything taught in school by day is contradicted and contravened at home by night, how can the seeker thrive? If the teachers don’t have the resources needed, how can they teach? Even if our financial support is limited, we can offer our time, our participation, and our concern by collaborating with one another. We need to examine our skills and tools to see how they can be used to enhance quality education for our youth. Helping to organize fundraisers, donating learning materials, and starting an after-school sports club or craft class are just a few ideas of how parents can become partners and allies to their children’s educators. Our interest in learning will also show our youth that education is a lifelong process, so hopefully these tips will help us instill a love for learning in our children from an early age. And, success is with Allah!