Involving Children in Ramadan
By Maryam Issadeen
Allah (SWT) has made fasting obligatory on all sane, healthy Muslims during the month of Ramadan. Children are not expected to fast until the age of puberty. However, many children desire to take part in fasting along with their family from a young age. Although this can be challenging for them, there are many benefits in allowing and encouraging your children to fast from a young age.
Fasting, just for a few hours a day, will teach children a degree of self-control that they might not exercise outside of Ramadan. It will also help mentally and physically prepare them in a progressive manner as they get older, so that when they are obliged to start fasting, it’s not a complete shock to their system. Finally, fasting serves as a means of taking part in Ramadan, allowing them to develop their spiritual connection with Allah from an early age.
As Ramadan draws upon us once again, let us look at some of the ways in which we can encourage our children to get involved in the month.
Start when they’re young
Children will inevitably be involved in some aspect of Ramadan from the time they’re born. Whether it’s sleeping next to their mothers during taraweeh or setting the table for iftar – try and encourage their involvement in Ramadan to instil a love and appreciation for the month from a young age. For those too young to fast at all, introduce special Ramadan time activities to highlight the significance of the month for them. This could be something as simple as making Ramadan cards for family or giving dates to friends and neighbours.
Fasting only becomes obligatory after puberty so when the children are young, try out partial fasts during the day. Let them “fast” from breakfast till lunch, then gradually increase this so they can get used to the idea as they get older. Children who can manage it may be able to fast entire days, possibly just the weekends if school days are too tiring.
Similarly, encourage them to increase their ibaadah bit by bit – if they normally read one page of Qur’an a day, try and make it 2, or try and get them to pray more of their daily sunnah or nafl salaah. Be sure to inform them of the increased reward of good deeds during Ramadan.
While we know that all reward comes from Allah, sometimes this can be a bit harder for children to understand. A tangible reward for their efforts during Ramadan can help encourage their spirit. Try creating a chart with stickers to mark out the days they fast, or give them a small gift of some sort to acknowledge their daily attempts.
Visit the masjid
Try and take your older children to the masjid at the time of iftar. A communal breaking of the fast will help bring about the spirit of Ramadan as will praying in jamaat. Remember that this is not suitable for small children and babies who may distract others during salaah.
Encourage good deeds
Remind your children of the importance of doing good during Ramadan. Encourage them to be kind to their siblings and friends, to give a small amount in charity daily and to make du’aa to Allah.
Do not force children to fast the entire day if they are struggling as there is no obligation for them to do so. Do try and distract them for as long as you think appropriate, especially just before iftar when the smell of food may tempt them. During the time of the Prophet (SAW), the women of the village of Ansar said they would make their boys fast and if any of them started crying, their mothers would give them toys made of wool to distract them (Bukhari). Try and take the children’s minds off food but remember to find a balance between pushing them too far and giving in too easily.
Feed them wisely
While there may be a temptation to “reward” children who attempt to fast with their favourite meals and treats, this could do them more harm than good. Excessively sugary and fatty foods will not benefit their health during Ramadan, and in some cases may even make it harder for them to fast. Aim for a well-balanced meal to provide long-lasting energy for children who are fasting and remember to control their portions of sweets and fizzy drinks.
Change their habits
As we adults try to reform our lives and character, so too should our children. Try and change your children’s daily activities to be more in keeping with Islam. Restrict movies, cartoons, iPads and TV games etc. and instead encourage them to read Islamic stories or listen to Qur’an. While these habits may be difficult to maintain after Ramadan, at least make it clear to the children that things need to be different during the month.
Try and take your fasting children to visit their young friends who are also fasting. This will help build a companionship and can help them encourage one another. In the case of children of different ages where some may be fasting and others not, make sure the younger ones are conscious of their older siblings or friends and are not showing off their food unintentionally.
Above all, remember to use Ramadan as a time to prepare your young ones for when they are older. Instil a love and appreciation for the month and Insha Allah the rest will follow suit as they grow up. Acknowledge and reward their efforts and do what you can do to make their attempts easier. May Allah (SWT) reward them and us for trying, ameen.