Imagine that it’s a hot evening during Ramadan, like this last August as you wipe the perspiration from your brow. The women are lined up in rows for taraweeh prayers. Little Tarek tries his best to pray next to his mother, but he is excited about the bright colors. Tarek keeps sneaking away to investigate and ask questions. Another sister yells out, “Sister, could you PLEASE keep your child quiet! We need to concentrate on our salah!” Umm Tarek is suddenly furious. She might have needed some understanding or support. Umm Tarek might have come hoping to pray to Allah and connect with other sisters in the community. Maybe she came to the masjid to befriend some more experienced mothers, or learn tips for motivating her child. In that moment of embarrassment, the whole experience of bringing her son to pray and creating a positive Ramadan vibe dissipates.
Irritated and humiliated, Umm Tarek starts yelling and screaming, “Stop Tarek! Just stop it!” She embarks upon a lengthy lecture to her five year old son, “Why did I even take you? I am so angry...” She drones on and on before finishing, “…I don’t even know if I am going to take you to the masjid again!” As Umm Tarek frowns and spouts out these complaints, her cheeks grow ruby. Tarek is vividly aware that he did something displeasing, but the exact inappropriate behaviors are unclear and his positive successes go unnoticed. Umm Tarek goes home frustrated, ruminating about how hard it is to try and pray with her son during Ramadan. Tarek goes home feeling like everything he did at the mosque made people upset.
As good sisters in Islam, we should help our sisters in Islam when they encounter issues with their children by offering compassion and stepping forward to offer assistance in a beneficial way. I am not advocating for a Lord of the Flies, anything goes parenting style. Sometimes, a smile and encouraging words goes a long way and opens avenues for community building. If you pave the foundation of a friendship, you might be able to offer solutions or discuss how other women have encouraged, motivated, and disciplined their children so that they have proper behavior in the masjid.
We all struggle with parenting and each child is individual. There are many parenting strategies and tips to meet a wide variety of temperaments. One option is a more focused, straightforward approach. If we allow frustration to set in, we lose the opportunity to learn from a difficulty. Expressing annoyance with a long, excessive talk might be therapeutic to Umm Tarek, but the teaching opportunity is lost long before they reach home. It is better to simply and succinctly state which behaviors are wrong, and let it go (Regalado et al., 2004; Banks, 2002). Once the undesired behavior is easily identified, we can move onto correcting it and teaching the behaviors we want them to embody. We should limit the negative attention, and instead spend more time acknowledging when they display the behaviors we want to see. We can also encourage children to replace mistakes with good behaviors, as it says in the Qur’aan, “…Indeed, good deeds do away with misdeeds. That is a reminder for those who remember.” (Hud, 114) Alhmdulillah Islam teaches us that rather than dwelling on our shortcomings, we have the opportunity for a second chance by doing good.
While most people think of discipline as punishments, discipline is also teaching your children appropriate behaviors. We all make mistakes – adults and kids alike. It is essential to point out what is wrong without rehashing the mistake excessively. Then encourage the good behaviors you envision. It is important to communicate the expected behavior outcomes in a positive manner and take time to explain why these behaviors are important. You can even practice at home so that your son or child sees your example and has a chance to model the behavior you expect.
Next time Umm Tarek goes to the mosque, she might try setting expectations and limits in advance. She can also instill confidence by telling about the behaviors she knows Tarek is capable of achieving while fashioning a visual image he can strive to meet. Imagine that Umm Tarek explains the importance of salah while holding him on her lap at home. She makes an agreement with Tarek that insha’Allah they will pray two rakah at the mosque rather than a whole night of taraweeh. Umm Tarek also talks about how pleasing it will be to Allah to stand in prayer and remaining silent without disturbing others. She reminds Tarek everyone is asking Allah for forgiveness. This time Tarek is very excited. He tries his best in the first rakah, but he is fidgeting a bit in the second rakah. Tarek manages to stay quiet since he knows the importance of asking for forgiveness. Nonetheless, Tarek is confident he can complete the prayer because he has accomplished it at home. After Umm Tarek returns home, she compliments Tarek, pointing out the specific positive traits he displayed during the prayer. She asks Tarek about his favorite part of their visit to the mosque, and reads him a special story before bed. As Umm Tarek tucks little Tarek into bed, they both feel thankful that Allah has blessed them with a great evening!
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