The benefits of imaginative play in children’s physical, psychological, and emotional development have been well researched and documented, especially in the last 75 years according to Psychology Today. It is no surprise that the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, encouraged imaginative play in the children around him during his lifetime over 1,400 years ago.
The Prophet’s playful nature and gentle disposition nurtured the imagination of his own children, grandchildren, and the offspring of his beloved companions. Here are some examples and tips inspired by Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, on how to boost your child’s imagination.
1. Be an active participant in pretend play with your child(ren).
Ibn Abbas, may Allah be pleased with him, reported that the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, once came out carrying Hasan Ibn Ali on his shoulder and a man who saw them said, “Oh boy, what an excellent mount you are riding.” The Prophet, peace be upon him, said, “And an excellent rider is he!” (At-Tirmidhi) The Prophet, peace be upon him, not only allowed himself to be his grandchild’s make-believe mount, but also praised his riding skills. His aim was undoubtedly to make him feel comfortable and happy. Likewise, by showing interest in your child’s imaginative play, you can boost their confidence and bring them joy.
Tip: Offer your child or children a horseback or camelback ride. If your child is too big or your back cannot handle it, interest him/her in a bear crawl adventure. These types of activities are not only fun to do, but they also help you get in much-needed exercise.
2. Be patient as they explore their imaginary world.
In another hadith, the Prophet is said to have allowed his grandchildren to climb on his back and shoulders and ride him like a camel or horse. He did not become inpatient with them, even in the most delicate of situations – when he was leading the congregational prayer! (Ahmad, An-Nasai)
It is important to acknowledge the child’s needs and not lose our temper if they make a mistake. Instead, we should encourage them while making sure they are safe. They may want a shot at cooking something in the kitchen or experimenting with different materials to build something. No matter the activity, be sure to be present to guide them with a pleasant disposition. For the most part, children imitate their parents or guardians, so it may be that their interests are based on the things they see from their caregivers.
Tip: You be the judge! Ask your child or children to create something and present it to you for you to judge their skills, whether they be culinary or creative. Kids always aim to please and they will be sure to show off for you.
3. Ask questions and engage them in conversation about their pretend play.
There was an incident when the Prophet laughed heartily at seeing a toy horse with wings that Aisha, may Allah be pleased with her, kept. She narrated:
“The Prophet, peace be upon him, asked ‘What is this I see?’ Aisha said, ‘A horse,’ The Prophet said, ‘What is this on it?’ Aisha said, ‘Two wings.’ The Prophet said, ‘A horse with two wings?’ Aisha said, ‘Have you not heard that Solomon had horses with two wings?’ The Prophet laughed so deeply that his molar teeth could be seen.” (Abu Dawud)
Rather than oppose this pretend play, he approved and encouraged it by having a conversation about it with Aisha. He showed interest and made her feel secure enough to explain her reasoning. This incident moved Aisha so much that she was able to recall it in this important hadith, especially how he laughed about it.
Tip: Recharge your child’s imagination by asking them hypothetical questions like, “What if such-and-such?” and “What would you do if [blank]?” Involve their toys or favorite characters from a show or movie. Also answer your own questions, so you can connect with them.
4. Never belittle something they feel strongly about.
Anas Ibn Malik reported:
“The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, was the best of people in character. I had a brother who was called Abu ‘Umayr. When the Prophet would come and see him, he said, ‘What has the little sparrow done?’ And he would play with him.” (Bukhari, Muslim) In a related narration in Abu Dawud, when the sparrow died, the Prophet, peace be upon him, sat with the boy and comforted him as he cried.
Imagine how reassuring this was for the child! That despite being a Prophet of Allah and a busy leader for the new Muslim community, the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, took the time to sit with him as he grieved for his dead pet. This is a perfect example of how to express empathy with a child even, if to an adult, whatever they are dealing with is miniscule in comparison to your own daily problems. By acknowledging his loss, the Prophet cemented the strong bond between him and the boy.
Tip: Encourage your child to explore nature and befriend other living creatures. Speak with them about the amazing stories about animals in the Qur’an and their relationship with some of the Prophets.
5. Make imagination competitive.
According to a hadith in Abu Dawud narrated by Aisha, may Allah be pleased with her, she and the Prophet, peace be upon him, used to race each other. She said, “I raced him on foot, and I outran him, but when I gained some weight, I raced him again and he outran me.” Similarly, parents can challenge their kids to a race or a competition. They can pretend to be in the Olympics or in an epic battle. Whatever the scenario may be, a contest is always enjoyable.
Tip: If a child loses one of his or her toys or their temper, help them to find or fix it. Provide the tools they need to resolve the problem, and always show consideration for their feelings.
One of the greatest means we have for teaching our children about our religion is through imaginative play. These narrations provide a foundation of how we can support our youth’s development through imagination, communication, compassion, play, and acceptance. Our beloved Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him, set an example of how to be, as he said, the best of people by being good to your family. The quintessence of this goodness is providing adequate shelter, food, clothing, tools, and the nurturing environment necessary to aid in the development of our children into healthy, righteous believers.
May Allah provide you with limitless opportunities to play and strengthen the bonds with your children. Ameen.