"Raising our children in this American society needs different methods from the methods our parents used with us. We have to establish a solid ground of Islamic concepts and belief in their lives, so the idea of what makes a behavior acceptable or not is clear to them. We can only do that by relating every action in their lives with Sunnah. When they wake up they can say the du'a, "All praise is for Allah Who has brought us to life after He made us dead and to Him belongs the Resurrection." Then when they go to wash they say, "Oh, Allah I seek refuge in You from every evil and from evil things." And so on, throughout the day, so they have the life of the prophet (PBUH) as an example for them in every action.
We should start at first by one prayer that we keep practicing with them till they learn it. Then we can add another. Then, when it comes to a point where they ask to do something that is not accepted from the Islamic view, it will be easier for them to understand why we say no, (with an explanation of course)." [Quote from IQRA!, ISGC newsletter, Family Matters, June 1994]
The quote from a newsletter advice column is a suggestion to Muslim parents for raising their children in the United States, where Islamic community support is very weak. It is assumed that parents are already teaching their children their prayers, wudu, and fasting and sending them for Quran memorization and Islamic instruction classes at the local mosque.
Notice that the author is using the English translations of these traditional du'as and has not argued that children learn the du'a in Arabic. At what age would a child be able to understand these du'as? Probably not very young. Young children are very concrete thinkers and the ability to think of evil in general terms is a mature concept. Young children need specific examples, like, “Oh Allah help me be strong and stop myself before I hit my brother next time he takes my bunny.” Life and death are ideas for older children. It is more effective to warn a young child that she might fall down and hurt herself very badly so we would have to take her to the hospital in an ambulance than to warn her that the fall could kill her. The concept of resurrection has been difficult for adults to absorb. Remember that Prophet Abraham questioned this concept and Allah gave him a demonstration of this miracle, as described in Quran.
I was interested in how the author, a Muslim born in an Arab country and immigrant to the United States, recognized that she could not raise her children as she had been raised. Converts to Islam have the same issue. We cannot raise our children as we were raised either.
Traditional Islamic education has piously encouraged people to memorize the du'a of the Prophet and du'a from Quran, which is surely a very good practice. We also find examples in hadith of people making their own du'a and being complimented by the prophet for it. Scholars agree that du'a can be made in any language and at any time. We do not need wudu. It is the simplest of aqidah to do, to talk directly to Allah (SWT). Having children learn the traditional du'a and recite them regularly can make children perceive du'a as something like salah, formal with memorized words to the point of overlooking the individual personal du'a. If the words are 'big' and not meaningful to the child, it can make Allah seem very distant.
I would suggest teaching children to make up their personal du'a, in their own words, and give this first priority in teaching du'a, before teaching the traditional du'a. This can be started as young as 3 or 4, when the child is starting to have an awareness of Allah. It can give the child reflection on the day, what went right or wrong, and reflection on the concept that food doesn't just magically appear on the table, new clothes don't just come home from the store, etc. We need to be thankful to Allah and to parents for providing for us. We need to be aware of our behavior and how Allah knows about it, so we should talk to Him about it. Parents should model this behavior, by saying du'a out loud, when leaving the house, when entering, before eating, after eating, etc. Wouldn't this really teach children to be closer to Allah?
But what do we have them say? Let them decide. Remember it is their learning and their understanding. Ask the child to think of something to thank Allah for. Maybe your daughter is thankful she didn’t have to eat green beans for supper. OK. That is important to a 5 year old. Let her thank Allah. Your son is afraid of monsters and asks for protection from bad dreams and monsters. Why not?
At what age do you teach your children du'a? How do you teach them? What benefit do you expect from your own du'a? What can your children learn from it?