YESTERDAY was the first day of Ramadan – the holy month for the Muslims marked with fasting and prayers. If you’re a Muslim parent, yesterday would have been the day you heard your child repeat “hungry” and “how long more?”
Even though your child might have been fasting a few years now, that doesn’t make Ramadan easier for them every year.
Here are some tips from some Muslim mothers:
Jamilah Samian, trainer and author of parenting books Cool Mum Super Dad, Cool Boys Super Sons and The Groovy Guide to Parenting Gen Y and Z, and mother of six:
Ramadan is a lot of things.
Above all, it’s an opportunity to connect with God and grow / mend relationships with God’s creations (people and other living beings). Kids must be taught that when you give up eating and drinking, it must be done willingly. Also, staying away from food / drink is the physical side, you MUST refrain from hurting others through backbiting etc because your fasting may become invalid and not be accepted by God if you cross the line this way. It’s also about mercy, generosity, forgiveness, cleansing your heart free of grudges etc.
The best way is through intrinsic motivation. You feel good because you know you have behaved well and therefore God willing, it will be accepted by Allah.
Kids are not required to fast before puberty but it’s good to train them early. How long should each kid fast varies as each child is different.
For younger kids, perhaps they can skip one meal. It’s good to encourage them to wake up for sahur and buka puasa (iftar) with everyone else although they are not fasting the whole day, so they can feel the excitement.
When a young child is able to fast, give him the honour of leading the prayer recitation (duaa) at buka puasa time.
Maybe he can fast some days, then break some days.
Maybe he can fast on weekends, not fast school days, or some schooldays. The idea is, be flexible.
Get them involved in preparing the food / drink for buka puasa.
Some kids really want to be part of it despite the fatigue and would insist on continuing to fast even though their parents ask them to eat something. I have seen several of these cases, some kids as young as five.
The purpose is to make Ramadan memorable and something they look forward to each year.
Build the anticipation and therefore, the desire.
It’s about mental and physical preparation.
Diversify the food / drink. You know what your kids like and dislike. It’s okay to spoil them a little in terms of choice of food, as long it’s within budget, but overeating is totally out.
I’m not into food buffets, although I get invited and do go to respect the host. Adults and kids gorge on food as though they haven’t eaten for months and then miss the night prayer. It’s against the spirit of Ramadan itself.
Tell them stories about your own Ramadan as a child. Until now I remember very well what I used to eat / drink during Ramadan. The simplest things could be the most delicious! For example, mine was syrup with ice. We didn’t have our own fridge, so ice had to be bought just before buka puasa, from the shop 10 minutes away (we would ride our bicycle to get there). The ice block was wrapped in wood shavings & old newspaper to slow down the rate of melting.
And sahur was equally exciting because of the “family togetherness”.
Despite the tiredness, hunger and thirst, Ramadan remains one of the best parts of my childhood.
Tuti Ningseh Mohd-Dom, mum of six:
When kids are young and just learning to fast, say five to six years old, we let them start fasting later in the day. Like after the noon prayers (zuhur) or afternoon prayers (asar), instead of after dawn like the others. This way, we could break fast together as a family and the young ones would experience some hunger and the joy of breaking fast.
Sometimes they would wake up with us to have the morning meal, but they are allowed to have lunch, and start fasting again after lunch. They would have a different set of rules.
We hardly ever motivate with monetary rewards for fasting. But those who attempt to fast will get to choose the menu for breaking fast. This is for the younger kids.
The older kids aged seven and above usually would not need much motivation to fast, since they have been fasting since young; just encouragement and acknowledgement that they’re doing a good job.
We always remind them to let us know if they are feeling weak or dehydrated and need to break their fast, and that it’s okay to do so.
Dr Aznida Firzah Abdul Aziz, mother of two:
My kids were very enthusiastic about fasting. They started from two hours then increased it to half a day and then to a full day.
Those who were not fasting had to eat separately from the adults who were breaking fast. This proved to be motivation for them as they preferred to eat with the adults.
The religious input came when they attended formal and informal religious classes.
Hanita Mohd Mokhtar, mum of two, based in Scotland:
What I did with the kids was to practise doing short stints, such as half a day initially. Then we slowly increased the time span depending of course on their health. It was good to also practise outside Ramadan as preparation for the holy month of course and to teach them about non-compulsory fasting (puasa sunat).
What is also essential is a lot of moral support apart from giving them an understanding of the benefits of fasting and discussing issues related to those in need.
My husband Andrew also believes in incentives especially for our son, by that I mean a present of some kind, especially when Ramadan coincides with the long summer months.
We also try to involve them in preparing for buka puasa and Raya to encourage a sense of looking forward to something rewarding for their effort, both in the worldly and spiritual sense. – BRIGITTE ROZARIO