Tarbiyah During the Middle Years
By Dr. Aisha Hamdan
In the final article of this series
(see the articles page for the other parts), we address the unique
aspects of tarbiyah during the period of middle childhood (7
to 12 years).
It is important to consider the cognitive changes that take place at the beginning of this stage and throughout because these form the foundation for the techniques that will be used.
Consider the differences in the cognitive ability, language, and understanding of a 3-year-old versus those of a 7-year-old. Within a matter of a few years there are dramatic changes in these areas that reflect Allah's plan, subhanahu wa ta'ala, in creation. During middle childhood, a marked improvement occurs in selective attention which means that children are better able to concentrate on the particular task that they are engaged in and ignore surrounding distractions. Children develop the ability to understand logical principles which is evident in their seeking explanations that are rational, generalizable, and consistent. Logical thinking is crucial to understanding, acquiring knowledge, and communicating clearly with others. This makes it the most important factor in cognitive development during this stage. Cognitive improvements are also apparent in memory capacity and strategies, processing speed and capacity, and knowledge base. This means that children are better able to remember events and information, to think faster and about several things at one time, and to learn more quickly. With an expanded knowledge base (body of knowledge or skills in a particular area), it is easier to learn new information because it can be integrated with what is already known. In relation to language, these new abilities make it easier to acquire new vocabulary, understand grammatical constructions, and use language appropriately in everyday situations. Overall, children who consistently apply these skills are better equipped to analyze problems, derive correct solutions, and truly understand the world around them. This opens up a whole new range of possibilities in terms of tarbiyah and parenting.
Yusuf is an 8 year-old who enjoys teasing his younger sisters and he does this on a fairly regular basis. His sisters obviously become very upset and report his behavior to their parents. Yusuf finds enjoyment in the reaction of his sisters and the attention that he receives from his parents. As a parent, what would you do in this situation?
Teach, Teach, Teach:
"Invite (all) to the Way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching. . ." [16:125]. Life is an unending lesson; we continue to learn until the day we die or lose the ability to comprehend. As children develop the intellectual and cognitive abilities to understand concepts, it becomes imperative for parents to teach them what is acceptable behavior and what is unacceptable. Much of this teaching can be completed through our examples and by verbal instruction. The actions, words, gestures, and even silences of Prophet Muhammad, sallallahu alayhe wa sallam, can be our best guide during these times. If we have instilled a love of the Prophet, sallallahu alayhe wa sallam, in our children from a young age, they will have a strong desire to emulate him. As parents we should also follow the Prophet's example as we guide and instruct.
Ibn abi Salamah reported, "I was a boy under the guardianship of the Messenger of Allah, and my hand used to wander around the dish (while I was eating). Then the Messenger of Allah said to me, 'O boy, mention (the name of) Allah and eat with your right hand, and eat from what is closest to you.' Thereafter I did not lapse from this way of eating." (Bukhari). The lessons from this Hadeeth are two, one for ourselves and one for our children. As parents, we can see the method that the Prophet, sallallahu alayhe wa sallam, used to teach the young Sahabah, he merely instructed him in the correct method for eating and most likely demonstrated an appropriate model as well. For children, it can be seen that the Sahabah very eagerly accepted the advice and wisdom of the Prophet, sallallahu alayhe wa sallam, and immediately made the necessary changes in behavior. There was no hesitation, doubt, or questioning.
Regarding the example above, it would be appropriate to instruct Yusuf that it is not acceptable to tease his sisters and to utilize examples from the Qur'an and Ahadeeth.
"O you who believe! Let not some men among you laugh at others. . . Nor defame nor be sarcastic to each other, nor call each other by (offensive) nicknames. . ." [49:11]
The Prophet, sallallahu alayhe wa sallam, said,
"A believer does not taunt, curse, abuse, or talk indecently." (Tirmithi).
Lately, Yunus has been very disrespectful to his parents by disobeying them, refusing to respond when they ask questions, and even yelling at them on occasions. He has been upset by the rules that his parents have established in the house and doesn't feel that he needs to follow them. What would you do?
Obedience to Parents:
"Your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him, and that you be kind to parents. Whether one or both of them attain old age in your life, say not to them a word of contempt, nor repel them but address them in terms of honor. And, out of kindness, lower to them the wing of humility, and say, My Lord bestow on them Your mercy even as they cherished me in childhood. Your Lord knows best what is in your hearts." [17:23-25].
It was stated by Abu Hurairah that a man asked, "O Messenger of Allah, who has the greatest right of good company and kind treatment from me?" He replied, "Your mother." The man asked, "who next?" He replied, "Your mother." The man asked, "then, who next?" He replied, "Your mother." The man asked, "who next?" He replied, "Your father." (Agreed upon).
The Prophet, sallallahu alayhe wa sallam, said,
"The pleasure of the Lord is in the pleasure of the father and the displeasure of the Lord is in the displeasure of the father." (Tirmithi).
Children should not be led to assume that disobedience to parents is a simple matter. In several places in the Qur'an and Ahadeeth obedience to parents is placed second in importance to the concept of Tawheed, the belief in and worship of the One, True God. The Prophet, sallallahu alayhe wa sallam, said three times, "Shall I inform you about the greatest of the major sins?" They said, "Yes, O Messenger of Allah." He said, "To join others in worship with Allah and to be undutiful to parents,..." (Bukhari). Once children realize this essential element of the Deen, it will be less likely that they will want to disappoint their parents or to show disrespect to them. Ultimately, this shows disrespect and disobedience to Allah, subhanahu wa ta'ala.
Ten-year-old Sameerah likes to pray and go to the mosque with her family. She also likes to fast because her school friends do. Her parents have encouraged her to give some of the money that she has saved to those in need, but she had planned on using it to buy a new book. As a parent, how would you encourage Sameerah to share her money?
The Goal of Pleasing Allah:
It is at this time in a child's life that more of the concepts of Islam can begin to be taught in greater detail. Young children may know the name of Allah and his attributes and be happy to say them, but they cannot really comprehend the idea of an Omnipotent, All-Encompassing God that takes care of them and loves them. As they mature, children will begin to understand this and realize the importance of their relationship with this Unseen Creator. It is necessary as parents to teach them about the significance of pleasing Allah, subhanahu wa ta'ala, in all that they do. This is, in fact, the goal of Islam, which is submission to Allah's plan and guidance. It should also be emphasized that doing this is to their benefit as well because it is through this obedience that they receive Allah's grace and blessings. Connected with this are the rewards that are obtained from Allah for good behavior and the final, ultimate reward in the Hereafter.
"He that doeth good shall have ten times as much to his credit; he that doeth evil shall only be recompensed according to his evil. No wrong shall be done unto them." [6:160].
It is critical to teach these principles to our children because they should be a guide and a light throughout a person's lifetime. When a child misbehaves, he or she can be reminded about these ideas and simply asked whether Allah would be pleased with that type of behavior. Mindfulness and thikr of Allah and the Hereafter can and should be inculcated in children beginning at a very young age.
The mind of a child is an amazing thing. It is another one of the awesome wonders in Allah's creation. As it grows and matures, a world of opportunities opens up for teaching, inspiring, and sharing. Middle childhood is a challenging, yet exciting time during which the essence of Islam should be cultivated. It should not be a time of confrontation and disagreement, but one of valuable and ongoing tarbiyah. Parents should enjoy and relish these moments because the task of parenting will soon be over and it will seem as if it had only been a day or part of a day.
"He will say, 'What number of years did you stay on earth?' They will say, 'We stayed a day or part of a day'." [23:112-113].
By following Allah's guidance it will be a successful day!!!