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On the Couch with Grandma Jeddah

Na’ima B. Robert gets to know the real Grandma Jeddah, author of the Discipline without Disrespecting e-books and regular SISTERS writer.

Grandma Jeddah, as she is commonly known, has a unique take on parenting, one that involves patience, restraint and respect. One year ago, she embarked on a project to share, via the Internet, her calm parenting techniques with Muslim parents everywhere and, today, the Grandma Jeddah websites and e-books have secured a loyal fan base and continue to benefit mothers around the world, masha Allah. I caught up with the prolific author to find out more about her parenting journey.

 

N. How long has Grandma Jeddah been around?
G.J. I established Summit Garden Press, which is the parent company of Grandma Jeddah’s Library, in March 2011. Our first book series has been the Discipline without Disrespecting e-books.

 

What do you see as your mission?
My mission has three aspects. Firstly, it assists Muslim mothers in having a more tranquil self and household by providing them with emotional support and instruction on how to effectively guide their children by using positive discipline methods as an alternative to hitting, shouting and shaming. Secondly, it attempts to show parents that positive discipline methods, which encourage calmness, advising, gentleness and non-corporal consequences, can be a successful means of training children to be Allah-fearing Muslims. Finally, it attempts to show that many of the methods mentioned above have a foundation in our religion.

 

Where do you get the inspiration for your approach to parenting?
Well, initially I learned about non-corporal methods many years ago while instructing at the Islamic school I’ve been teaching at for over thirty years. Some years after I’d been teaching, I noticed a couple of teachers whose students were always so well behaved, yet I never saw or heard either teacher scolding her students or hitting them with the ruler. After enquiring, I found that one used the Star Chart incentive system and the other used a ‘grab bag’ of goodies to keep her students under control. I began using their methods for my students and later for my own children at home and saw amazing results. From there, I began my own personal search into child discipline.

 

Aside from that, my inspiration comes from my own eleven children. They all have a wide range of personalities, abilities, temperaments, assets and challenges. Over time I have learned that using physical punishment and shouting may initially be intended to solve a discipline problem, but often ends up being a way of releasing anger due to the child’s misbehaviour. It is so easy to step into the realm of oppression when using corporal discipline to train our children.

 

How have your own parenting experiences shaped your approach?  
I have learned that some children need little encouragement to obey. But then you may have that challenging, strong-willed child. This is what really inspired me to write Discipline without Disrespecting. Some children simply go against the grain and you just don’t know what to do to get them to behave. If your primary method is hitting and the child does not respond, what do you do?  You hit harder and more extensively. This is not necessary, and may actually transgress the limits, Islamically and legally. For strong-willed children, less is more: less talk, less noise, less action.  Contrary to what one would expect, these children respond better to calm responses using slow, low voices. They also need clear-cut rules and consistent consequences. But even more importantly, they need your time, attention, affection and understanding. This also necessitates educating yourself on the types of disabilities or special behaviours children might have such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Autism, mental retardation, learning disabilities and what have you. As I mentioned earlier, my children have a wide range of characteristics; some are gifted, some are easy going and others have some of the challenges mentioned above. The earlier a parent educates herself regarding the types of disabilities or challenges that children may have, the better the outcome for both parent and child.

 

Did you always believe in this approach or was there an ‘A-ha!’ moment of realisation that shaped your views?
I certainly didn’t always believe in this approach. I was raised in a household in which “the belt” was the primary method of disciplining and paddling was used in school. When I was young, I remember thinking that I was lucky because others I knew got hit with an extension cord. I also recall as a child saying I would never hit my children. But children grow into adults doing what they’ve learned. And if the only method of disciplining you know of is hitting, that’s what you will do, unless you discover other methods.

 

In my culture (African American) we pretty much scoffed at parents who corrected their children with calm, verbal, instruction. There are all kinds of jokes in our culture that allude to the scorn for this type of discipline method. Even today you can still hear people say, “Just let me have him for one week, he’d behave then.” So, naturally, when converting to Islam, we bring along the baggage that we grew up with – and this includes our discipline methods.

 
My views about disciplining changed over a period of time. It initially started when I noticed two other teachers in my school managing their children without hitting or shouting. Even then, I didn’t immediately say, “Hey, I’m going to start doing this.” It evolved over time – a long time, years in fact. Even once I started enacting some of the methods, such as the start chart system in which you place stars on a chart for desired behaviour, I wasn’t consistent and would revert back to my old methods of shouting and hitting. That’s what I was comfortable with. Eventually, I discovered that using other methods actually made me feel better. I felt more confident about disciplining, more in control of myself, and more positive about my relationship with my children. This is what many mothers need to know. When they discipline their children with methods that avoid hitting, shouting and losing control, they actually help themselves feel better mentally and emotionally.

 

What challenges did you face when raising your own children?
One of the challenges I have had raising my own children is realising that some of them have their own personal challenges that make it extremely difficult for them to control their emotions and actions. Although all our children may be raised in the same family, each has had different experiences from birth and beyond. Some may have been born during a period when the mother experienced a calamity or hardship in her life and was unable to give that particular child the emotional and sensory affection that he or she needed. This can actually result in the child having certain behavioural or emotional problems and even mental deficits. I had to learn that these children required special and extra attention. They needed more time from me. They needed me to understand their uniqueness. This meant I needed to increase my knowledge about their conditions. In my quest for knowledge, I realised that my previous methods of physical discipline, in particular with my “special” children, were a mistake.

 

Have your own children taken on your parenting philosophy?
To some degree yes and to some degree no. The jury is still out . . . . Like I mentioned earlier, children use discipline methods they were raised with. I used corporal punishment regularly with my older kids. It takes time and patience to try something different. Some of my adult children who have their own children and live away from me do attempt to use some of the methods that they have personally seen me using. One just recently told me he is making a conscious effort to put the methods into practice because he has found that they actually work.

 

I definitely see my older children who live with me attempt to put into practice my discipline methods when they’re correcting their younger siblings. I think this is more so because of how I discipline them during the times when they hit their younger siblings: I explain to them calmly and reasonably that this is not how I want them to correct their siblings. I ask them to tell me other ways they could have solved the problem. Sometimes I provide them with a set of alternative solutions to the problem so they will have methods to choose from in the future. Showing them alternatives and asking them to write down or tell me other ways they could have handled the problems helps to reinforce in their minds that other methods exist. It also helps them to put them into practice.

 

Sometimes the older ones challenge me on my methods. They seem to resent that they were yelled at when being disciplined, while the latter group gets calm tones. There’s nothing wrong with explaining to your children that your actions in the past may have been wrong and even apologising and asking them for forgiveness for the times you may have been excessive in your discipline methods. They will actually respect you for your sincerity and learn that they too can change for the better.

 

What do you see as the main problems facing Muslims in their parenting in this day and age?
I think one of the main problems facing Muslim parents today is distinguishing between what is cultural parenting and what is Islamic parenting.  If there are Muslims who slap their children in the face, beat their children with their hands or with items that leave welt marks, bruises and sometimes even blood, is this truly Islamic parenting? Others may beat for an excessive period of time, above and beyond what is appropriate or reasonable. Often their reasoning is the hadith that says hit them at ten and hang your belt where your family can see it. Unbeknownst to many Muslims (myself included for a long period of time) there is a reputable Islamic opinion that children should not be hit at all under the age of 10. This is according to the view by Sheikh Al-Albani, may Allah (SWT) have mercy on him. There are clear ahadith on not hitting the face, and scholars that permit hitting children explain that it should not cause harm but should be something that alerts the child. Others suggest it should be a last resort. And Allah (SWT) is the All Knower.  From my readings of those more knowledgeable than myself, the Prophet (SAW) never hit a child of his own or others. In fact, his manner with children was remarkably gentle, accommodating and patient. One well-known hadith mentions that he even let his grandsons play on his back while he made salat! This one hadith says so much about how tender we should be when managing our children.

 

What drives you in your work as Grandma Jeddah?
What drives me in my work is that I like to stay busy. My work with Discipline without Disrespecting isn’t work; it’s my hobby and enjoyment. I can stay up into the early hours, working on ways to promote positive parenting methods for mothers. I literally have to tell myself to go to bed. It’s actually a stress valve for me. That might be because I had ADHD as a child, so I get pleasure in being creative and doing things.

 

What further plans do you have for Grandma Jeddah?
Insha’Allah, I intend to write more Discipline without Disrespecting e-books to help mothers discipline more compassionately and also write imageless picture books that will hopefully be Islamically inspirational to our youth.

 

Be sure to visit www.grandmajeddah.com to download Grandma Jeddah’s e-book Discipline without Disrespecting.