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.