Monday, December 28, 2009

Basic summary of parenting

Think how Allah (SWT) rewards and punishes, and He gives us time and space to work things out.  He sent prophets to teach us and model good behavior to us.  He created the environment around us and the changes that happen in it to test us and help us learn and grow.  Having created us, He knows us better than we know ourselves and He knows what methods work to show us the straight path. 
Think how Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) lived with his people.  He rewarded people with his smile and good words for them, and the pleasure of his company.  He ignored many of the faults of people and generally refrained from rebuking and reproaching them.  He only applied punishment when Allah commanded it.  He taught people with short talks when they were ready to hear him, not all of the time.   His actions and behavior with his family, his friends, his fellow citizens, strangers, and enemies were all recorded to provide a model for us on many different levels.  And we see in his words and actions many examples of how we should treat others, including our children.
I haven't seen anyone encapsulate clearly in English an overview of parenting techniques for Muslims.  One simple way of listing them would be:
·         rewards for good behavior
·         giving the child time and space to work things out
·         punishment for bad behavior
·         teaching
·         modeling
·         making changes to the environment
Lists like this can be misunderstood so let's define each part briefly. 
Taking the first three points together, think of the many verses in Quran about rewards and punishments, and the reminders that He gave people time to correct themselves.  Think of the many hadith about our deeds, and how they will be accounted for on the Day of Judgment.   
Parents have issues with rewards and punishments and how to balance them.  A few reward all the time in excess, and never punish.  A few do the opposite.  Most are somewhere in between trying to find the right balance. 
Allah weighs good deeds much more than bad.  From hadith we know:
·         if we intend a bad deed, it isn't written unless we do it.  And then it is written as one bad deed. 
·         If we don't do it, we get reward for a good deed. 
·         If we intend a good deed, but don't do it, we get the reward for a good deed. 
·         If we intend a good deed and do it, we get the reward for ten to 700 times that one good deed. 
(Bukhari and Muslim)  If we focus on these ratios, we sense that we need to be giving rewards for intentions as well as accomplishments, and our rewards should far outweigh our punishments.
Then remember that Allah doesn't hold children accountable for their bad deeds (Abu Dawud, the pen is lifted for 3...).  But WE are accountable for all our bad deeds, including any bad treatment of our children and any bad thing we teach them, both by telling them.  So let's think over how we might consider justifying how we punish our children in front of Allah carefully.   And we really need to wonder how we can punish a child when Allah doesn't , so we really need to look at what we might mean by punishment. 
On physical punishment, there is an often quoted hadith from Abu Dawud that we should make our children start praying when they are 7 and hit them if they don't when they are 10, but there is no one clear hadith or Quranic verse about the extent of hitting.  And missing prayer is a serious problem.  Notice that at 10 the child should have had 3 years to create the habit of prayer but rarely is a child at puberty this early.   There is no hadith that the Prophet ever hit any child for anything.  His servant boy Anas left hadith that he served the Prophet for 10 years and was never scolded or reproached or told any word of discontent with his services.  (Bukhari, Abu Dawud, and Muslim)
From all of the mention in a wide number of hadith that mention children and how they were treated, the classic opinion is that hitting is allowed if it is with the open hand or something small, like meswak, the little stick used as a toothbrush by Prophet Muhammad and people in Arabia for centuries.  It should not strike the tender parts of the body and should not leave a mark or cause any damage.  And the person should not hit if he (or she) is in danger of losing control of himself.  That summarizes the Islamic position on physical punishment.  It really is limiting.
There is another form of punishment, suffering the consequences of actions.  Your child grabbing toys from others leads to their not wanting to play with him, for example.  That can be a punishment and a learning experience and parents can often have a hand in controlling these experiences, particularly with a young child.  You can take your child home if you are on a visit or send her to play alone in another room if your child refuses to respond to polite requests to play nicely. 
So we reward good behavior with smiles and hugs and maybe a little treat, and we give 10 to 700 times more rewards than punishments.  And we reward for efforts made that aren't successful as children learn.  We reward them for not doing wrong things they want to do.  And we don't bother them for every little thing.
There are three more parts to describe.  Teaching and modeling are things we do like the prophets did.  They are intertwined.  Many people don't realize the importance of modeling.  How can you ask your child to be a better person than you are?  Much parenting advise urges us to make our children do something.  Well in reality, we make changes in our families when we make changes in ourselves.  They change because we change.  Let us be as much like the Prophet Muhammad as we can in our homes.  Learn his sirah.  Teach like he taught, simply and kindly from time to time, giving time for people to absorb the lesson.  Teach when the child is ready to listen, not all caught up in emotional uproar.  Be gentle and loving with children like he was. 
Lastly, making changes to the environment is our responsibility as protectors and providers for our children.  Like a farmer caring for seeds, trying to provide them with good soil, appropriate water and light, we provide the food, clothes, shelter, and social environment for our children.  We put away breakable and dangerous objects when a child is too young.  We encourage good friends and discourage bad friends.  We ensure enough sleep and a quiet place for study.  We use time outs or other removal from games, play, TV, etc. to allow the child to pull back from out of control or bad behavior and get back into self control and allow the child back when he is able to act responsibly.
May Allah help us to raise our children well.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this summary. In America we're so awash in parenting tips, magazines, books, talking heads on the morning news, etc. that it's hard to get a clear idea of one's parenting style and simple guiding principles. It would be great to have a Muslim dialogue about parenting, as it is such a huge challenge facing our community today.