Hani is a "nice" boy in middle school, 12 years old. He's reasonably polite and doesn't create too much disturbance. Of course he never answers questions posed by the teacher, rarely turns in homework, and does poorly on tests. When the teacher can get his mother on the phone, she promises he'll do better and a few assignments will come back, that look like Mom did most of the work.
If we go back in time, when Hani was small, we would see a child eager to learn, as Allah created him. He explored everything within reach and climbed and maneuvered to get to things out of reach. He kept at a problem, like putting his shoes on or opening the door, working over and over until he mastered each task. Then there were things he did because he got a reward. "Pick up your toys and then we can go outside to play." And things he did because it was HIS routine, like stay in bed to sleep at night after his schedule of story and glass of water and kiss goodnight is done.
What happened? Somewhere along the way, or perhaps at many different places, things occurred to corrupt his fitra. Most were probably pretty small, but maybe there was a big event or two as well. Life is a series of tests. Even in the best of homes, with very well meaning parents, children can get off track. Remember that even prophets, like Adam and Yakob, had problems with their offspring.
Some possible reasons for a boy this age to start failing might be:
- He's upset about some classroom bullies.
- He has a learning disability and as schoolwork has become more complex, he has given up trying.
- He's worried about his parents who are having marital difficulties, so he isn't focusing on his studies.
- He got off to a bad start with the teacher, doesn't like her, and thinks trying in her class is a waste of time.
- Someone convinced him that the subject is too hard or boring and he doesn't understand why he has to waste his time on it.
- He is so busy dreaming about his gaming time on the x-box and how to beat the next level that he can't focus on school work.
- He needs glasses to read better and get rid of the headaches that have been bothering him.
- He's too tired in class because he doesn't eat breakfast and goes to bed late at night.
We could make a longer list easily. A point to note, why isn't he turning in prayer to Allah for help? Most children don't know how to do that. If they know that Allah cares for them and will help them when they call on Him, it gives them some confidence. Then they should know that Allah will never give them a test harder than they can manage. That should increase their confidence. Someone with confidence doesn't give up when there are problems. He goes out to find solutions and keeps working until he finds one that works. He asks for help because he is expecting help to be available from Allah.
Safeguard the commandments of Allah, you will find Him before you. Remember Him in prosperity. He will remember you in straitened circumstances. Be sure that that which makes you fall into error will not guide you to the right path and that which leads you to good will not deprive you. Remember that the help of Allah is for those who remain patient and prosperity follows adversity and there is convenience after inconvenience. (Trimidthi)
On no soul does Allah place a burden greater than it can bear. It gets every good that it earns, and it suffers every ill that it earns. (2:286)
Hani's parents would be wise to follow the advice of Allah for governing: It is part of the mercy of Allah that you deal gently with them. Were you severe or harsh-hearted, they would have broken away from you. So pass over (their faults) and ask for (Allah's) forgiveness for them. And consult them in their affairs. Then, when you have taken a decision, put your trust in Allah. For Allah loves those who put their trust (in Him). (3:159)
They should talk with him, and listen to him. Observe carefully what is going on and when. Ask others for assistance. When the problem is identified, changes can be made to help Hani. It may be a family affair, as others need to make changes too. The family schedule may need to be adjusted so he gets better sleep, or his older brother may need to be told not to tempt him away from his homework with new games borrowed from friends. As we seek help even to China, we need to respect modern scientific research about learning disabilities. Many very intelligent children have problems with school specific tasks. Professional help may be needed to learn different learning strategies. Then, when a plan of action is drawn up, the parents and Hani need to follow through with determination. It may need a little tweaking here and there as they go along, but Allah has promised us ease after hardship so we make the effort.
I've seen some common parenting strategies that don't work, or don't work well. If we have the chance to help a family, we need to speak up when we see some of these errors, politely and tactfully of course. When the parent does the child's schoolwork and passes it in as the child's, this is a form of lying. Then I've seen those who speak harshly to a child in front of others. You wonder what they do when no one is around. We remember the advice in Quran of Luqman to his son. Verily the harshest of all voices is the voice (braying] of an ass!!" [31:19]
and the hadith of the Prophet, Teach but do not reproach, because the teacher is better than the one who reproaches all the time. (Al Bayhaki) Some complain about their child to others, in his presence, but if you think about it, they are actually boasting about how impossible he is. They are proud of his "high spirits" that others call bratty behavior. Some talk very sternly to their child in front of the teacher, but the teacher finds out from the child that nothing else happens. Once they are out of teacher's sight, the parent forgets about the whole problem. They are refusing the test Allah has sent them.
And know that your possessions and your children are a test, and that with Allah is your highest reward. (8:28)
Are your children learning to seek help from Allah for their problems in a constructive way? Or do they just pray for what they want without making any effort? Remember that Mariam, mother of Prophet Jesus (PBUH) had to shake the palm tree for dates to eat, making effort, even though Allah provided for her when she gave birth to her son.
Have you tried problem solving in this way? What other problems could you solve using this method?