By Hanan Dover
All too often we can find ourselves as parents losing our patience with children’s misbehaviour very quickly. Some parents often use Allah’s name in vain and anger as a way to control their children’s behaviour into submission. Little do parents know the long term consequences of the negative use of Allah’s name on a child’s emotional and psychological development.
An interesting fact that is often not known by parents, is that 90% of a child’s brain develops during the first 5 years of their life. The time of an infant’s brain development is vital for preparing the child’s intelligence, emotional stability, and personality.
A child is not born with a fully developed brain, similar to that of the heart and stomach. Whilst the brain cells are formed before birth, most of the connections are actually made during infancy and early childhood. It is during this stage of a child’s development where a parent or caregiver’s emotional attachment to the child will play a central and crucial role in shaping their child’s experiences. In turn, they can use this period to maximize the child’s neural brain connections towards positive healthy emotional and psychological development. It is not only the genes of the child that influences human development, but it is the gene’s interaction with the environment that is most critical in a child’s brain development. A child’s brain is just as active as an adult brain. Hence, this is the reason why it is very important for parents to talk and play with their infant children.
Talking and playing with infant children establishes the foundations important for learning language, especially when learning is in fact easiest for the child during their younger ages. Children don’t need excessive educational and academic activities to develop their brain potential. What they do require is love, care, play, singing, and new experiences to develop into emotionally healthy children.
Most emotions are developed based on cognitive and language development. Fear is one of the strong emotions that many children experience during the early childhood stage. In Islam, the emotion of fear is considered instinctual. Parent who have held their newborn child and accidently moved their secure arms slightly whilst grasping the child, know that this action would trigger an automatic startle response by the newborn child. Also, as children grow older they develop active imaginations trying to make sense between reality and make-believe. This makes them susceptible to strong fears. It is also the reason why young children may show intense fears to thunderstorms, lightening, imaginative monsters and boogey-men, the dark, etc. Emotions of fear need to be controlled in a disciplined and nurturing manner.
One of the common problems amongst religious parents, is when parents take advantage of the emotion of fear to control their children’s responses and behaviours into sumission in order that they follow their parenting rules. Some parents believe that in order to shape their children into obeying their requests, that they need to introduce to their children the strong fear of Allah (swt) so that their children obey them. What results from this is that parents introduce and reinforce to their child, Allah’s (swt) characterisitics in a punitive way during the most critical time of their developmental life. Allah’s (swt) loving charactertistics are replaced with fearful one’s by the parent. This is harmful for a child’s spiritual and emotional development and can lead to long term consequences. This strong fear can also develop in other ways as the child becomes an adult where other emotional issues may manifest.
For example, comments like: “If you don’t listen to me, Allah will send you to Hell”, “If you don’t finish your homework, Allah will punish you”. What happens is that the child’s brain cultivates a punitive view of Allah (swt), and not a loving one. A loving Allah, is the correct reality in which we are instructed in Islam to understand Him. However, parents can often reinforce in their child’s memory a negative view of Allah (swt). Hence, as the child ages and matures to become an adult, the mere mention of Allah, can elicit a punitive notion of a God who merely punishes woring actions. This is the result of the early imprinting on the child’s brain in terms of the concept of God. It becomes reinforced into memory. If this threat is continued by the parent to the child, it can become permanent and often difficult to change. This is not suggesting that this view cannot change as children become adults, but what it does suggest is that it will be harder to change unless there is an active attempt to change one’s perspective of Allah (swt) through appropriate means of knowledge acquisition.
Children are in need of their parent’s support in order to guide and nurture them towards healthy development. Young children do not have the capacity to discern between right and wrong. Hence, it is up to their parents to guide and nurture their emotions in a beneficial and helpful manner.
One of the ways parents can shape their child’s behaviour, while still maintain a positive and true view of Allah is to associate doing good with Allah (swt). For example, “Allah loves those who are good to their parents” or “Allah is most pleased with you when you are doing your homework so you can learn because Allah loves his creation to gain knowledge through education”. These are simple, but highly effective ways that honour Allah’s Divine characteristics without misusing Allah’s name for a personal gain. By honouring Allah’s name and loving characteristics, you are aligning the love of Allah and encouraging good in a way that makes sense to a young child. In this way, a child’s brain can be nurtured with love, good thoughts, and the cultivatation of good and righteous behaviour manifest.
When a neural brain connection is used repeatedly in the early years, it can be hard to change. For example, when parents repeat words and phrases as they talk to babies, babies subsequently learn to understand speech and strengthen the language connections in the brain. So, please, use Allah’s (swt) names in goodness to raise loving, righteous, and emotionally healthy children.
Wednesday, July 04, 2012
Name of Questioner: SK
Reply date: 2010/11/02
Question: My daughter is 3 years old. I feel it is the right age to start introducing the concept of the existence of Allah. However, I do not know how to begin; I feel this concept is very much abstract to be perceived by a 3-year old. But, in the same time I feel it is necessary to start introducing such concept in her awareness; not only the existence of Allah, but the fact that he is the Creator, his Will is the only thing that could make things happen or don’t happen, that he is the one who gives us money, food, people we love; and the fact that we try to be good people and to stop doing bad things so that Allah loves us and rewards us with Jannah. I am afraid I would say it in a way that would make her intimidated instead of making her understand the concept and love Allah. Please advise me whether it is too early for this or it is the right time to start; and if it’s the time I need to know how to deliver these messages in an appropriate way.
Counselor: Mona Younes
Sister, ma sha’a Allah, I commend you, because you are very much aware, of what should be done in order to provide your beloved daughter, although being still very young, with the emotional stability and healthy psychological development needed. I will begin by citing your own words:
“I feel it is necessary to start introducing such concept in her awareness; not only the existence of Allah, but the fact that he is the Creator, his Will is the only thing that could make things happen or don’t happen, that he is the one who gives us money, food, people we love; and the fact that we try to be good people and to stop doing bad things so that Allah loves us and rewards us with Jannah.”
In other words, you are aware about the WHAT should be done, but you are asking about the HOW to do that. To understand how to commence the dialogue about Allah, as a Creator, His Will, His characteristics and ultimately his instructions, let us go one step back and try to understand our child, his development and needs.
“An interesting fact that is often not known by parents, is that 90% of a child’s brain develops during the first 5 years of their life. The time of an infant’s brain development is vital for preparing the child’s intelligence, emotional stability, and personality.” (A citation from a recently published article of Dr. Hanan Dover, an Adjunct lecturer at University of Western Sydney)*[i]
In other words, the brain is not fully developed when a child is born, contrary to other organs. This is why, that during the first 5 years of a child’s development, there is such a tremendous influence his caregivers (parents or otherwise) can have over his emotional and psychological development. Doesn’t this scientific fact, remind you of something? It reminds us of the Hadeeth of Prophet Mohammed (P.B.U.H.): "Every new born has the correct instinct, his parents make him Jewish, Christian or a fire worshipper."
This shows how much a child’s experience, child’s development and character is shaped, molded and impacted by those surrounding him during his childhood. That’s why it is very important to interact with the child in a positive way, a way that goes in accordance to his needs, as a child. Hence, it is important for parents and those surrounding the child to talk to him, play, sing and tell stories. As it is through these acts we can ‘teach’ whatever is abstract in a very simple and yet effective way. This is so important, because talking, playing, singing, loving, caring, storytelling and living together in a passionate manner will, inshallah, lead to a healthy emotionally developed child. Don’t forget the Prophetic advice: “Play with your son [for] seven [years], then discipline him [for] seven [years], then be his friend for seven years, then give free rein to him.” This of course, goes for both genders. According to the Hadeeth, we are still in the first phase, the phase of ‘Playing’.
What has all that to do with your question? This is the core of the answer. What you have to do is simply trying to convert all abstract concepts (Allah, Creator, His Will, His Blessings ….) whilst doing all the previous actions. Children at that age do not need excessive academic or educational (in the sense of schooling) activities to develop their brain. They need to be nurtured, within the context of their daily life. Here is a set of examples:
Allah, the Creator
If you want to ‘teach’ your beloved little 4 year-old daughter about Allah being our and everyone’s Creator, walk with her in the garden and admire the beauty of flowers. In a very natural context smile and spontaneously, say, “Mash ‘Allah, what a beautiful flower. Why shouldn’t it be beautiful? Isn’t Allah its creator?” Look at the sun and relate its creation to Allah. “Masha’a Allah, how big is the ocean, the sea, the sun, the sky… Allah is its Creator, Allah is the Greatest, the most Powerful, the most Capable and the most Merciful.”
This should be happening in the usual daily life context- when opening the window and feeling a slight breeze entering the room, when smelling delicious food, when admiring the smiling face of a nearby passing baby… “Masha’a Allah, how Great and Merciful is Allah. It is only Allah, who can create such beauty, such perfection…
Blessings of Allah
It is very important at this early age to pinpoint to the blessings and bounty of Allah. Again, this has to happen, in the context of the daily life routine. This can be done very easily. “Do you know why we are able to hear? Because Allah blessed us with ears. Without His Blessings, we won’t have been able to hear, see, smell or breathe. Let your daughter hear your heart beats, smell roses and flowers, touch running water and differentiate between the smooth surface and a rocky one. Always, explain what it would be like without each blessing: What would it be like if we were not able to differentiate between woolen clothes and those made of silk or cotton? We won’t be able to wear the right clothes, when we feel cold and when it is winter. How awful would it have been, if we could not smell? We wouldn’t be able to differentiate between fresh and sour milk, and so on.
Allah and our deeds
It is very important to nurture our children with the passion and love towards Allah. Children at your daughter’s age are unable to discern between right and wrong. Hence, it is up to us as parents to nurture their emotions in a beneficial and helpful manner.
One of the ways to do that is to associate ‘Good deeds’ with the Will of Allah (SWT), and His Contentment. For example, “Allah loves those who respect and obey their parents” or “Allah is most pleased with you when you are doing your homework so you can learn because Allah loves his creation to gain knowledge through education”. Again citing some words from Dr. Hanan’s article:
“By honoring Allah’s name and loving characteristics, you are aligning the love of Allah and encouraging good in a way that makes sense to a young child. In this way, a child’s brain can be nurtured with love, good thoughts, and the cultivation of good and righteous behavior manifest.”
At last, do not forget to make duaa, may Allah bless your little child with the right understanding, a strong faith and real love and passion towards Allah and Islam.
[i] Dover, Hanan (25 May 2010). Nurturing the Love of Allah into our Children and Brain Development . From: http://muslimvillage.com/2010/05/25/nurturing-the-love-of-allah-into-our-children-brain-development/ Retrieved on October 31, 2010.