Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Prophet and Children

Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was known for his kind and affectionate nature, thoughtful and respectful of all. Many of the companions were children when they met and lived with the Prophet, and they passed on their experiences in the collections of hadith.

What will our children say about us when we are gone? We are the models teaching them how to behave like our prophet. If we can't follow his example, how can we ask our children to do so?

One man reported that as a boy, he was caught throwing stones at palm trees, and was brought before the Prophet for judgment. "O boy, why do you throw stones at the palm trees?" the Prophet asked him. He said, "To eat (dates)." The Prophet said, "Do not throw stones at the palm trees but eat what falls beneath them." He then wiped (his hands over the boy's) head and said, "O Allah, fill his stomach." (Abu Dawd)

Notice how in this story, the prophet did not give a long lecture, or yell. The boy was brought for punishment, but what did the prophet do instead? He asked the boy to explain himself. The boy was hungry. Many people around then did not have enough to eat. He recognized the child's need by giving him permission to eat what falls to the ground. And he said a dua for the boy, that he have enough to eat in the future.

Anas bin Malik reported: "When the messenger of Allah (PBUH) came to Madina, he did not have a servant. Abu Talha took me to the Messenger of Allah and said, 'O Messenger of Allah, Anas is a clever boy, so let him serve you.' Then I served him on journeys and at home." (Bukhari and Abu Dawd)

"One day he sent me on an errand and I said, 'By Allah, I will not go,' but it was in my mind that I would do as the Messenger of Allah had ordered me. I went until I came upon children playing in the street. Then the Messenger of Allah arrived and he caught me by the back of my neck from behind. as I looked at him I found him smiling, and he said, 'Unays (Anas's nickname), did you go where I ordered you to go?' I said, 'O Messenger of Allah, yes, I am going.' I served him for nine years, but do not know that he ever said to me about anything I did, why I did that, or about anything I had neglected, why I had not done that." (Muslim)

Notice again the absence of yelling and scolding. Anas doesn't get punished. He gets a friendly reminder to get back to his task. In each of these examples, the Prophet seems to see the situation from the child’s perspective as well as from the adult perspective. Anas needed a break.

How often parents react to a child from their own perspective without consideration for the child’s viewpoint. We make eating schedules based on our own needs and then children sneak food or misbehave because they are hungry. We make activities timed for our attention spans, and don’t plan brakes for a child’s need for exercise and change in focus. Children, and even adults, have varying abilities to focus on tasks. Some tire early and some can go on for hours. And the ability changes depending on how interesting the task is. Much of the misbehavior in schools that run according to clock schedules is due to the inability of children to fit into the school time slots, and when parents run their homes on to-do list schedules, much of the problem they have with their kids also comes from this issue. So why punish? Look for ways to adjust and make the expectations for the child more in line with what the child can do.

When I spoke to a group of people some time back about trying to act like the Prophet with our children, a man spoke up and said the Prophet hadn't had his son to deal with. Of course Anas was probably chosen to serve the Prophet because he was a well behaved boy. But when we read Quran and hadith we see that the Prophet had good manners and thoughtful respectful dealings with people no matter how bad they were.

We need to be aware of the common error of blaming others for our behavior. Our children don't make us do anything. We give in to our own fatigue or anger and frustration, but that is a choice we make. We are adults, answerable for our actions. Children are not answerable. They act according to their nature and to how we, and the environment around them, train them to behave.

Yes, there are children who are difficult. Some have a strong desire to "be the boss" - with a very dominant personality. Some are very fearful, and their fears stop them from doing normal things, so they fill their time with safe things. Some are very energetic - even hyperactive. Others go off into day dreams and have trouble focusing. We have terms for children, like ADHD and autistic and dyslexic and reams of literature on how to diagnose and handle each issue. But modern child psychology and education theory actually ask adults to act very much like Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) when dealing with these children, gently, patiently, inquiring of them about what they are doing without scolding, and working with them to teach them. And trying to see the world through the child’s eyes.

In his relations with his own children, it is described how the Prophet would greet his daughter Fatima with a kiss. When he went to her house she would rise and come to welcome him and kiss him. (Abu Dawd) When the Messenger came back from a journey, the children of his family would welcome him. Once, when he came riding into Madinah from a journey, the young Abdullah ran up to him first and the Prophet mounted the boy in front of him. Then came his grandson and he mounted him up behind him, and they entered Madina this way, riding together. (Muslim) He was known to carry his grandchildren on his shoulders, and to kiss them in public. One man, watching him kiss and hold his grandson Hasan, said to him, "I have ten children and I have never kissed any of them." The Messenger of Allah glanced at him and said, "The one who is not merciful will not be shown mercy." (Bukhari)

We have many more examples of the Prophet interacting with children and encouraging his companions in the same direction. The great importance he attached to the kind treatment of children can be understood from his statement, "He does not belong to us who does not show mercy to our young ones and respect to our old ones, and who does not enjoin the good and forbid the wrong." (Tirmidhi)

1 comment:

  1. This is a great post, and I certainly am in need of the reminders, it is easy to lose patience and yell. Although I try to do better.