"You will not eat anything today until the sun sets."
Such a declaration can be dreadfully frightful to a small child. It seems like a very, very long time.
Many adult Muslims can recall the first Ramadhan fast they observed when they were children. It is often a poignant memory. The difficulty of that day is easy to recall. Nevertheless, when the fast is successfully accomplished for the first time, the sense of triumph and of joy felt on that day is cherished for life.
Some Motherly Advice for Ramadhan fasting:
A number of mothers share with us their experiences with teaching their children how to fast during Ramadhan. One mother tells us:
I would get them used to Ramadhan fasting by constantly reminding them of the blessings and rewards that a fasting person receives. I would teach them the wisdom behind fasting. I would also encourage them by preparing for them their favorite foods to break their fasts with. As the day progressed, I would keep them busy with beneficial tasks, and as the time for breaking the fast grew near, I would keep them preoccupied by playing with them. A final strategy was that I would instill in them a spirit of competition. The children would vie with each other as to who would fast the greatest number of days.
Another mother has this to share:
I would try to give my children strength by telling them things like: "When we were small, we would see our mother fasting, so we would fast along with her." I would remind them of the blessings that they would receive and that our beloved prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) used to fast.
A third mother tells us:
Every time a child was about to eat something, I would remind that child of the Ramadhan fast. I recall one singularly humorous incident. I saw my little girl put a piece of gum in her mouth, so I reminded her that she is fasting. So she spit out the gum, looked at it for a while, then quickly put it back in her mouth and swallowed it. Then she looked at me and said: "That solves the problem."
Example of the Pious Companions of beloved prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)
The best example of raising children is that of our Imams (as) and pious companions of beloved prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Al-Rabi, the daughter of Mu'awwadh tells narrates:
We used to fast and have our children fast. When we went to the masjid, we would give them cloth toys to play with. Whenever a child would cry for food, we would give that child the toys. We would do this until it was time to break the fast.
This shows that they did not simply impose fasting on their children. They looked for ways to occupy their children's time and make the fast easy upon them.
Is My Child Ready to Fast?
Fasting is more difficult for some children than it is for others. Children who have a weak constitution might not be able to fast. Likewise, children who normally need to eat frequently can find fasting difficult. Children who are extra active in their play are also among those who have trouble fasting. It is the job of the parents to determine whether their children are ready to fast. They know their children's health. However, the parents should not be lax in the matter. As long as a child is in good health, the child can be introduced to Ramadhan fasting in some manner or another.
Dr. Rashaad Laashin has the following advice for making the fast easy upon our children:
Between seven and nine years of age, it is possible to gradually introduce children to the fast. At the beginning, they can be encouraged to fast until 10 AM. Then the time can be increased until the time of the Zuhr prayer, then until the time of the Asr prayer. At this point, we can encourage them, saying: "Come on, be brave. Keep up the fast until sunset and complete it all the way."
A healthy ten year old child can handle the fast. Medically, his body is able to handle cope with it. We can say to a child at this age: "Come on. Show us how brave and strong you are. Do something really great and fast the whole day."
Some Important Measures
It is important for us as parents to adopt the following measures so that our children can get the maximum benefit from their attempts at fasting and not develop instead their skills at lying and deception:
1. We must work to instill in our children's heart the desire to fast during Ramadhan. This means that compulsion is out of the question. Forcing them to fast is no way to develop their inner selves. Instead, it can cultivate ugly character traits like hypocrisy, lying, cowardice and deceit.
2. Positive reinforcement works wonders and can make it much easier to get our children to fast. Praise and encouragement are strongly recommended. Prizes - both material and honorary - can be awarded to the children.
3. A great way to encourage our children is to cultivate a competitive spirit among them. This is especially effective when the children have peers who are fasting and who are praying in the masjid.
4. We must not neglect using the gradual approach with our children. This approach should be used so that the child steadily advances to the point of fasting a full day.
"I am fasting, Mom" (but only when you can see me)
What is a mother to do when she discovers that her child has not been observing the Ramadhan fast, but has been lying?
Dr. Hiba Isaawi, a professor of Psychology at the 'Ayn Shams School of Medicine, addresses this question. She stresses that the fasting of small children is a mother's responsibility, since the children are too young to understand the importance of the fast. Therefore, when a mother discovers that her child has been eating in secret, she should do the following:
1. Encourage the child's fasting by giving the child an allowance for each day successfully fasted.
2. Do not confront the child because of the mistake. Do not call the child a liar. Instead, inform the child indirectly - by using stories of others - just how serious it is to break the Ramadhan fast and to lie.
3. Do not expect a small child to fast a full day from the onset. Increase the duration of the child's fast in increments, according to the child's age and ability.
4. When the child fasts, make sure to praise the child and to give the child recognition in front of the rest of the family.
5. Encourage the child to fast by only permitting fasting people to have the privilege of sitting at the table at the time of breaking the fast. In this way, the child will understand that breaking the fast early is a big mistake.
6. Do not place sweets and displays of food within the child's line of vision before the time of breaking the fast. There is no need to weaken the child's resolve with such temptations.
7. Cultivate a religious and celebratory atmosphere at home. Let the child sense the importance of this month by making it different that the other months of the year. Ramadhan should be something special.
By: Hinaa al-Hamraani