How would you answer the question, “Who are you?”
Some people would define themselves through their profession, for example, a doctor or a teacher. Others may define themselves by their cultural background, such as Arab or American. Other still may simply say, “I’m only a mother”. Many times, how people describe themselves is a reflection of how they feel about themselves and in the case of our children, we want them to radiate high self esteem and feel incredible about who they are!
The challenge of crafting an identity and strong personality in our children isn’t as difficult as it sounds if you start early. Think of yourself as a farmer. No, not the kind that toils in a field which is essential to healthy eating, but one that toils something more precious because the soil is more valuable. I want you to till your children’s brains and how they view themselves.
As parents we see how verbal abuse can damage a person’s perception of themselves and how bullying damages a person’s self-esteem. We can engage our children by building them up. Always remember that there are two ways to have the tallest building, one is to build it strong and tall and the other is to tear down all the other buildings around it.
I advise you to tell your child how beautiful and intelligent they are over and over keeping in mind that repetition is the mother of learning. It doesn’t matter the stage that your child is in, just try it. In Stage One (1 – 7 years old), Stage Two (8 – 13 years old), or Stage Three (Teenagers), they love to hear compliments and praise, even if they act like they don’t. As a mother or father, is it true that we enjoy hearing compliments? It helps us to feel appreciated and strengthens our iman, insha Allah reminding us to be grateful to Allah (SWT) for that blessing.
Let’s take little Aisha for example. She’s in Stage One at 5 years old. Being young she imitates her mother and plays with her headscarves. She tries them on, prays while wearing them, and she looks so cute! One of the best things you can do when for a young child who is exploring hijab (or anything positive) is to compliment her. Tell her how beautiful she looks and how she is obeying the command of Allah (SWT) by praying, and include other compliments you can give, which when coupled by hugs and/or kisses creates a strong healthy positive neuro-association in their brains.
A great way to help our children cement their belief is for you to talk to others about them in a positive way where they can hear you. For example sharing with a friend, relative, or spouse you may say how Aisha is so intelligent because she figured out how to complete a math problem or how she’s so creative and artsy because of a drawing she made. This helps breed confidence and before our children know what to think, they borrow our belief in their self until they fully exude it. I call this “planting seeds” which is the most important part of farming because without a seed there is nothing to cultivate and absolutely no harvest.
Our children’s sphere of influence grows rapidly when they turn school age and are around others who have different experiences. In Stage Two (8 – 13 years old), as they have more exposure and use the internet, they have already formed opinions and perceptions. Now that we are planting seeds we must cultivate those seeds by making sure they are properly fed, watered, and allow the sunshine to reach that soil. Constantly reminding our children of their intelligence, beauty, and at the same time challenging them to stretch themselves by doing more or learning more is part of that cultivation. Allow them enough independence to make mistakes and learn from them while understanding that they are children and not little adults in Stage Two (8 – 13 years old). Letting them dress themselves as they desire, teaching them to make up their beds, clean their rooms, wash the dishes, and understand that doing chores is a part of the first great team they are a part of and it’s called family.
We must remember that the difficulty with parenting lies with the fact that there is constant conflict with other forces outside of our control, whether it be relatives that don’t share your values, people that don’t share our Islamic beliefs, or the media that makes all kinds of filth look attractive. The sad reality is that by the time a child is 18 years old, they have seen an average of 200,000 acts of violence including 40,000 acts of murder on various media, which can have a profound impact on human psychology.
In every stage of our children’s growth, planting and cultivating is a never-ending process and is essential to the way our children grow their personalities. I’m sure you have recognized that your children have their own personalities along with their list of likes and dislikes which may differ from ours. I use a personality test that I feel is one of the best tools I’ve seen when it comes to human psychology and it’s free to use! It’s called the Briggs-Meyer’s Personality Test and I think everyone should take it in order to discover their personality type. When you understand yourself at a deeper level, it will help with all of your relationships especially with your spouse and children. Children 8 years and older can also take the free test at the link at the end of this article.
In Stage Three (teenage years) is when we begin to reap the harvest of our actions or inactions. During the early teen years as our children’s bodies develop and they go through puberty is when there tends to be a lot of emotional uncertainty due to hormonal changes as they transition through the process. We must be that much more strategic in our praise by reminding them of successes they’ve had and lessons they’ve learned from things they may have failed at. In the Coach role, we build them up and continue to support them on their road to independence.
One thing we must do as Muslims is to infuse the lessons we have learned from the Seerah of the Prophet (SAW) and from the Qur’an. If we only focused on our children’s psychology without infusing our Islamic beliefs then we are doing our children a disservice. Reminding our children of the jealousy of siblings we can share the story of Prophet Yusuf (RA) or when dealing with children’s stormy relationships with their fathers we can share with them the story of Prophet Nuh (RA) or Prophet Ibrahim (RA).
Reminding our children of how the Prophet (SAW) was slandered and boycotted, and how even his near relatives despised him during his da’wah can help our children hold Islam as relevant today as opposed to simply historic events. Teaching our children of how his patience was rewarded is also essential.
We must also balance the amount of times our children hear the words “no” and “don’t” with the amount of yes’s they hear. It’s estimated that children hear 148,000 no’s and don’ts before they are grown, and most of those happen when they are very young. If we simply celebrate them when they are doing something right or we tell them “yes” to counteract the feeling that so many things “can’t be done” then we take a huge step in creating balance and helping our children’s growth instead of stunting it. This also helps them to not feel that Islam is all about haram instead of halal.
Being a farmer and focusing on your crop by implementing these techniques over time can help you raise psychologically sound children with a strong sense of identity who are at ease in their personality. So that when your child is asked, “Who are you?” they can confidently respond that they are a Muslim who is intelligent, beautiful, happy, proud, or fill in the blank with any positive traits that fits their personality.
*Resources: Take the quiz at http://16personalities.com
Nazir Al-Mujaahid is the author of Muslims Parenting on Purpose Vol. 1 and founder of OutstandingMuslimParents.com. He has been married over 20 years and is raising nine children ranging in age from 20 yrs to 6 months. Nazir has utilized his entrepreneurial, leadership, and human psychology knowledge to build a dynamic family especially focusing on relationships and child rearing. This led to others asking how they too can put a family plan in place which eventually led to designing and host the Outstanding Muslim Parents Television show and parental training products and workshops.