We have to remind ourselves that our children are not crying just to make our day bad, it’s them having a bad day and it is our role as parents to be there for them and comfort them.
Bringing up children is a great task, full of responsibility. It feels like a blessing at times, and sometimes a difficult trial. We all struggle to be good parents, yet we are not always sure how to handle our children, especially when they give us trouble. Alhamdulillah, we have some guidance from the Sunnah of our beloved Prophet (SAW).
There is a well-known saying of the Prophet (SAW): ‘When I stand for prayer, I intend to prolong it but on hearing the cries of a child, I cut it short, as I dislike troubling the child’s mother.’ (Bukhari)
We usually hear this hadith related to emphasise the Prophet’s empathy or to show that we are allowed to make the prayer a bit ‘quicker’ if pressed for time, but the story also shows how Prophet Muhammad (SAW) was concerned about that baby’s distress and how he assumed that his mother would like to attend to her child as soon as possible.
Do we all attend to our children’s crying as soon as possible, even when busy with our prayer, household duties or other children? Are we as emphatic towards our own children as the Prophet (SAW) was to others? Being a mother is the most important job in the world, but it is also the most demanding one and there is no holiday, especially when the children are small. Taking care of a baby requires huge amounts of patience, stamina and mercy. And nearly all mothers find themselves struggling and developing ‘mummy guilt’ over not being good enough.
Managing a baby who is crying is hard. Yet knowing that it will be hard is not a reason enough to ignore our children crying and leave them in distress, even though some parenting experts and friends may tell us it’s no problem to do so. In some countries, new mothers are given advice to ignore a newborn’s whining so that they would become trained to ‘self-soothe’ themselves and learn that ‘throwing fits for attention” is not appreciated. To ignore the moaning of the pre-schoolers and older children is sometimes prescribed so as not to spoil them, and, for boys, feminise them.
But just why is it fine to pay no heed to the crying of a child when we wouldn’t ignore the crying of an adult? Crying and whinging is not just a thing that all babies do; it is their expression of sadness, helplessness and other feelings – a call for help – just as it is in the case of an adult crying! We have to remind ourselves that our children are not crying just to make our day bad, it’s them having a bad day and it is our role as parents to be there for them and comfort them. After all, in the words of Kitte Franz, the paediatrics and breastfeeding expert, “You’re not managing an inconvenience, you’re raising a human being.”
The concept of positive parenting stresses the importance of building a good relationship with the child, showing consideration for their feelings and choices and at the same time instilling a sense of right and wrong and disciplining in a correct manner. Positive parenting means treating children with respect and love, just like the Prophet r used to treat his children, grandchildren and other minors under his care. Anas ibn Malik (RA), the companion of the Prophet who related many ahadith, used to help and serve the Prophet (SAW) during his youth. This is how he described his personal experiences with the Messenger of Allah (SAW):
“I served the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) for ten years. He never said to me ‘uff!’ (a word in the Arabic language used to express one’s annoyance). And he never said about a thing I did, ‘why did you do that?’ And he never said about a thing I left, ‘why did you leave that?’ The Messenger of God (Allah bless him and give him peace) was the best of people in character…” (Tirmidhi)
“I served the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) for years. He never insulted me at all. He never hit me at all. And he never scolded me. And he never frowned at me in my face…” (al-Baghawi, al-Anwar fi Shama’il al-Nabi al-Mukhtar)
But what about discipline?
No scolding, no frowning, does it mean no punishment and no discipline? Contrary to what many people believe, and according to some recent findings in neuropsychology, people in general and especially children do not learn anything through pain, be it physical pain, or pain of social or emotional isolation. We imagine that punishing children will teach them what is right and wrong, but actually the fear created by being hit or feeling the threat of disconnection from a parent triggers the fight or flight response. This in turn causes the rational mind to be bypassed and puts people in attack mode, thereby inhibiting learning.
So how do we discipline the positive way? First of all, we have to build the right foundations, that is, establish a loving and respectful relationship with our children and teach them morals and rights and wrongs before a problem arises. If your child misbehaves it is time to calm him/her down, remove them from the situation and acknowledge their feelings, without hurting them. We should also remember that misbehaviour is a form of communication: your child does not yell or break things to make you angry, they do so, because they are upset or angry and don’t know how to deal with their negative feelings. The explanation and teaching should follow later, once the child is calm and his mind is back to receptive mode. It’s the time to talk about what happened and how to prevent or manage the situation in the future and to rebuild the relationship.
Sounds difficult? Positive parenting is more demanding and requires parents to be involved and proactive at all times. There are no quick fixes or magic words, but rather a constant effort. Insha Allah, these efforts will be rewarded as our children learn real self-discipline and act from the principles, rather than out of fear, and we will have a loving relationship with them.
The Prophet (SAW) was the kindest parent and carer, and he is also reported to have said “The best women are the riders of the camels and the righteous among the women of Quraish. They are the kindest women to their children in their childhood…” (Bukhari) Let us all strive to follow his sunnah of positive parenting, and may Allah (SAW) reward us for our efforts.
Klaudia Khan is a Muslim writer living with her husband and three daughters in the UK.