Encouraging children to fast during the month of Ramadhan
Today heralds the onset of the holy month of Ramadhan and Muslim faithful across the globe in good spirits indulge in several spiritual activities to observe this sacred month.
Children, during Ramadhan, are not left behind in partaking in some of these soul-lifting activities; from attending and listening to preachings from the holy Qur’an (tafseer), to attending Taraweeh prayers and sometimes, observing the fast itself.
Most commonly, children these days at the early age of 6 are found willing to attempt fasting for at least half the day. Parents encourage this act which simply revolves around the law of imitation.
I took it upon myself last year to speak to some children just hours before I delivered a presentation in one of the Muslim platforms, Passionate Muslims, during Ramadhan, on the topic; Children And Fasting. As I had anticipated, fasting for most children simply implies a test of endurance in the absence of food. Nothing more.
For some children, it is almost unbearable not to be able to boast amongst their peers how many times they have observed fasting.
Last Ramadhan, a particular hilarious video of a boy around the age of 11, buzzed social media for a while. The boy in question was lying exhausted from a day’s fast that was yet to be broken. From the voice-over, a woman could be heard teasing the boy on how he couldn’t even stand up to observe asr prayer earlier. The boy’s response had prompted humour to many; desperate to break his fast.
In similar circumstances, it is not uncommon to see parents enticing young children with their favourite food and other goodies so that they can fast. While this is a commendable gesture, the main purpose of fasting is most at times, missed.
While noting that fasting in Islam, is not obligatory for children ,the abstinence from eating is only an aspect of fasting and should not be the only aspect accentuated. In my experience, most children who are led to fast believing this notion, suffer the yearning for food throughout the day before dusk (iftar), do not necessarily pray the salah because they are weak from craving, and end the day exhausted from overfeeding and fatigue.
However, while encouraging fasting, the child can be saved from this plight simply by altering the mindset. Therefore, the role of the teacher here, cannot be overemphasized.
It is important to firstly, educate the child on what it means to fast, why Muslims fast as well as what is expected of a fasting Muslim. These, broken down to the perception of the child, would aid in creating a perspective of the bigger picture, regarding fasting.
Children should also be educated on good morals to be imbibed while fasting, such as praying salah on time, frequent supplications (azkar), recitation of the Qur’an, amongst other activities congruent with the ability of the child.
Also, children should be educated on why they ought to change the pattern of their physical exercises during fasting to avoid exhaustion. For instance, boys could be seen sometimes playing football during Ramadhan. This could easily dehydrate and exhaust them.
Equally important, children should be educated on a healthy diet during Ramadhan. It is important to understand that overfeeding before or after breaking the fast, which is common in most children, only results in drowsiness and fatigue. Foods such as dates, watermelon, milk and the likes have proven to be healthy during this period. Also, parents should guide their children on their eating pattern especially during iftar.
Conclusively, parents should remember to encourage children to fast using what is termed positive reinforcement.
Positive reinforcement means the process of encouraging or establishing a pattern of behaviour by offering a reward when the behaviour is exhibited. Positive reinforcement should be employed to persuade children to fast by offering them gifts, especially things they adore. These could of course come in from their favourite foods (as long as it is not used to primarily coax them to fast) or surprise packages during Eid-el-fitr celebrations at the end of the holy month. But most importantly, we should teach them that Ramadhan involves the fasting of the body as well as the soul.
On this note, Ramadhan Kareem. May this month bring you closer to Allah (SWT) and may His will be fulfilled in your lives. Aamin.