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Islamic parenting: The three stages in raising children

By Fatema Makki

It has been mentioned in the Holy Quran that children are an adornment of this life. They are an extension of their parents. Imam Ali (a.s.) explains that the parents are the womb from which children come to life; and the bows from which children, the living arrows, are sent forth. The archer who sees the mark upon the path of the future is Almighty Allah; “for even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.” In other words, good children are a compass that points to a good parenting.

Raising children, and upbringing them on the  path of righteousness and decency is a job that requires knowledge, patience, and dedication. To make a complex job easier, Islam has set the guidelines for raising children.

First and foremost, we must recognize that children have rights upon us.

1) The right to live: Parents are not entitled to take away the life of their children, either by abortion or after they are born.

2) The right to belong to a family: which is essential for the child’s emotional and intellectual development. Parents are not allowed to disown their children, or deprive them of the family name.

3) The right to have a good name: The meaning of one’s name subconsciously strengthens the characteristics implied by the name.

4) The right of maintenance: Parents must provide their children with all of life’s necessities including shelter, food, and clothing.

5) The right to have academic education, and religious Islamic education as well.

The guidelines for raising children can be summed up by the collective quote by Imam As-Sadeq: “Let your child be free to play until they reach the age of seven. For the next seven years, keep a watchful eye on him, and finally befriend him for another seven year. Then if he succeeds; otherwise, there is no good in him.”

The first stage:

The first seven years of a child’s life are the years in which he develops physical strength. Children should be given the freedom to engage in all sorts of productive physical activities and sports. Such activities, that had been mentioned in a Hadith by the Prophet (p), include swimming, horseback riding, and archery. It is not favorable for parents to restrain the child’s movement. Even in case they were afraid that their child would harm himself, their role must be constricted to monitoring him rather than forbidding him from having his own space and freedom of movement.

In addition, mothers and fathers should be aware of the child’s physical and mental abilities. His little hands, small legs, and limited mental capability should all be taken into consideration. For instance, a little child cannot make his own food, nor treat his diseases in case of sickness. Thus, parents should be patient and compassionate enough as to not only attend for his needs, but also do it with utmost love and empathy.

Children should also be given the right to cry since it is their only means of expression. As mentioned by physicians, it is also a way to alleviate any stress a child might examine and  allows the baby’s lung to develop. Thus, crying, as annoying as it might get, is actually healthy for the baby.

Parents must also develop the child’s moral motive and sense of order as well by supplying him with an early education. A system of punishment and reward must be set, explaining that any behavior that happens to be negative will be punished, and any positive behavior will be rewarded. It is important to note that children’s mistakes must be tolerated and dealt with wisely and patiently. After all, the child has not yet developed full conscience and awareness of right and wrong.

The second stage:

This stage is marked by its emphasis on discipline and education. Now that the child has developed physical and mental skills, he is more capable of expressing himself and even more aware of his actions and their consequences. It is very crucial during this stage that parents deal with their children on the bases of understanding, dialogue; yet power. The child ought to know that there are certain rules and regulations that he must follow, and that there are limits he must never trespass. However, parents should always resort to dialogue and calm stances in case the child has committed a mistake. The reaction to mistakes and wrong deeds must never terrorize or traumatize the child.

During this stage, parents can start assigning chores to their children so that the child would grasp the concept of responsibility. However, chores must never be overwhelming or exceed the child’s the ability to perform them.

The most important point is to educate children in religious law. Most Muslims think religious education means acquiring religious knowledge of the Quran and jurisprudence. However, the objectives of religious education for children is to train them to practice acts of worship including praying and fasting. Faith should be infused into the child’s personality so that an emotional attachment to Islam is created. After all, a Muslim child absorbs values and principles from his parents firstly. Otherwise, the child would develop undesirable habits and enethical values, and thus would not develop an upright Muslim character. As mentioned by Imam Ali (a.s.): “Mould clay as long as it is pliable and plant seedlings while they are still supple.”

The third stage:

Now that the child is 14 years old, parents must realize that they are not as obedient and compliant as they used to be during the previous stage. Young boys and ladies will have a tendency to be independent, oversensitive, and sometimes even rebellious. The system of punishment and reward cannot be practiced anymore. Parents are now endowed with  the role of a friend in additional to the former roles of being mentors and educators. They should diminish the sense of authority in their speech and actions and regard the child from a different perspective. Acceptance of new ideas is a key point to building a relation based on mutual trust and understanding. The youth’s ideas must be respected and never undermined or ridiculed. Thus, they would give their child the chance to confide to them in cases of troubles or decision-making. Parents must realize that their children are not their possession and do not constitute a personal belonging and thus should not be forced to behave like their parents especially that “they have been created for a time which is different than [their]time.”

A final note:

The Treatise of Rights, by Imam Zein Al-Abidin (a.s.), provides a bases of what we have already mentioned: “ The right of your child is that you should know that he is from you and will be ascribed to you, through both his good and his evil, in the immediate affairs of this world. You are responsible for what has been entrusted to you, such as educating him in good conduct, pointing him in the direction of his Lord, and helping him to obey Him. So act toward him with the action of one who knows that he will be rewarded for good doing toward him and punished for evildoing. And there is no strength save in Allah.”