As we gear up to send our children back to school or fine-tune our homeschool curriculum for the start of another “school year,” it is important for parents to take a step back and wrestle with their own notions of education and success.
The Modern Definition of Success
Most of us, without a doubt, want our children to grow up into being obedient, well-mannered and highly qualified individuals. These abstract ideas are essentially based on the belief that by enrolling our children in the best schools and univeristies or following the most innovative homeschooling curriculum, they will receive the best kind of education which will equip them to do something for themselves and others. What we believe to be tarbiyyah or the righteous upbringing of our children, therefore, is partially dependent on the education system.
This is also increasingly evident when parents, schools and teachers collectively work towards helping children achieve excellent grades and, based on these, they define their success criteria. For example, when the academic results are out, schools take pride in promoting the number of students who achieved outstanding results, got into prestigious universities or received scholarships. These results even determine the school’s overall ranking. Sadly, there is no similar emphasis towards character building and other soft skills.
This can even happen within the family. For example, take the case of two brothers, the elder one is sharp and gets As, but is very stubborn and ill-mannered. The younger child is very caring and gentle towards others in the family but gets average or lower grades. There is a higher probability that the child who secures higher grades will receive more appreciation from the parents for his outstanding achievements.
Redefining Goals for our Children’s Success
There is no denying that parents have a huge responsibility upon their shoulders when it comes to raising their children and we try to put their best foot forward to help support their needs. But, the more important question we need to ask ourselves is what is our ultimate purpose of this parenting responsibility? Does it have to do with catering to our children’s wants and needs? Or, is it finding the best ways to support them?
“Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.”
Come to think of it, parenting is rather the effort for bettering our own selves as parents! It is about openly accepting the challenges tied to raising children, un-learning and re-learning many things along the way, and proving a good role model to better suit and nurture their needs.
Here are some of the greater goals of parenting which can help us guide our children to be better individuals, students, citizens, and human beings.
1. Connecting with the Creator
When a child is born, we typically see them as a dependent rather than an individual human being. One of the things we need to understand is that every individual deserves to know about their existence and to belong. And the first thing we as Muslim parents can do for our children is to help establish that connection with Allah right from their birth so that they grow up to be God-conscious servants.
Tip: Some of the things that can help achieve this purpose are daily and frequent recitation of the Quran, praying in their presence, and displaying a general consciousness of Allah at all times ourselves.
2. Providing unconditional love and support
There is no replacement for unconditional love in a child’s life, no matter what age or stage of life. Generally, parents tend to intermingle love with obedience. When this is the case, if the child ever shows disrespect or fails to meet certain expectations, parents punish them with poor treatment and even cut off communication. Beware that this treatment does more harm to them emotionally than it is intended and creates a distance between the parent and child.
Tip: Being more patient and open towards accepting mistakes is the way to go. Of course, this does not mean that you do not address the issues, but there has to be a proper way to enforce discipline by setting firm boundaries (discussed in detail later).
3. Inspiring self-confidence
We measure confidence in relative terms when we praise our child for speaking in front of a crowd and not being shy. Whereas being shy is as much of a personality trait as being bold. Nurturing confidence in a child comes from helping them realize their potential in doing good. For instance, a child who owns up to his mistakes and apologizes is confident because they know that it is the right thing to do, and this is what needs to be acknowledged and appreciated.
Tip: Never shame your child for being shy. As a parent, you are responsible for protecting their self-esteem up until a certain age, when they can fend for themselves. Encourage them to enjoin acts of goodness and appreciate their efforts rather than making hollow praises by just saying you are proud of them. And remember that when an individual thinks that they are right for the right reasons, that is real confidence.
4. Nurturing creativity
When we talk about being creative, it resonates with being imaginative and thinking out of the box. In a similar context, when it comes to raising children who are creative, it means nurturing their ability to manage things on their own when the situation is tough or unusual. For example, if both parents are busy on a certain day, the child can manage to prepare a meal on their own or feed himself without the parents having to fear that they’ll starve in their absence.
Tip: Provide plenty of opportunities for your children to develop survival skills, such as cooking by allowing them to take over certain responsibilities from time to time. Let them occasionally decide what to have for dinner and then prepare it for the family. If they do not perform well on a test and are upset, allow them to come up with a solution as to how they intend to cover up for the loss through self-motivation and determination.
5. Inculcating a sense of responsibility and independence
When children are young, they have the ability to grasp things better and develop habits from an early age. This is the right time to introduce them to the idea of doing things on their own, such as taking care of their hygiene, making their own beds, practicing a healthy routine, and other self-care practices. Parents must also encourage children to take on certain responsibilities to promote independence.
Tip: Engaging children in age-appropriate tasks is always a good idea to foster independence and develop a sense of responsibility.
6. Valuing empathy
Empathy goes a long way and it is definitely a characteristic that parents need to ingrain in their children. Whether they are at school or home or socializing with friends, they need to be encouraged to be mindful of and sensitive to people’s feelings and help in whatever way they can.
Tip: Make sure that you are empathetic towards your children when they make mistakes, and others too, whom you interact with on a day-to-day basis.
Some Other Helpful Ideas
Here are some additional tips that are sure to help pave the way to success for your parenting goals.
Create a loving environment.
Especially in the eary childhood years (up until the age of 7) there is no better way to teach your child, but to do it in a loving way. And this is the Sunnah of our Prohphet, peace and blessings be upon him, too! No matter what values you wish to instill in them, just be sure to route it through a lovable experience in the home. For instance, when trying to inculcate a love for Allah and the Prophet, make them come alive in their hearts and surroundings. Talk about them in a loving way. Tell them how much THEY love us!
It is also important to understand how highly dangerous stress is to a child’s personal development. Stress quite naturally triggers the child’s “fight or flight” mode and causes them to react in response. And over time, these repeated patterns can develop into life-long negative habits or personality traits.
Establish discipline in the house.
For children beyond the age of 7 and up until 13 years, parents need to ensure that the home environment follows a certain and consistent set of rules. These rules apply not just to children but are applicable for parents, too. Setting firm boundaries and a protocol for discipline in the house does not mean that you maintain an uptight attitude and pressure filled enviornment at home. That would again mean putting them in a constant state of stress and could in turn nurture a fear of making mistakes. Have fun times as a family, laugh and play. But when rules are broken then the consequences have to be borne. And these again, should be age appropriate.
A very important message here is to remember that as parents, you are on the same team. Avoid the “good cop, bad cop” scenario that bits parents against one another as that often sets the stage for allowing children to over-step boundaries.
Be a good role model.
Prior to the age of 7, children do not know the difference between right and wrong, good or bad. They only seek approval or disapproval based on parent's reactions and the environment around them. Hence, it is important to be mindful of what we are modeling for them. For example, children should realize that everyone in the house wakes up at fajr and then goes about their daily routines. The kind of routine parents follow is bound to influence children’s likes and dislikes, too.
Additionally, when we involve our children and provide opportunities for socialization it allows them to develop certain soft skills, too, such as empathy, love, and kindness.
Trust in Allah.
Last but not least, rely on Allah for His infinite mercy, guidance, and support and continue to make lots of duaa alongside your genuine efforts.
Anas Ibn Malik reported: A man said,
“O Messenger of Allah, should I tie my camel and trust in Allah, or should I leave her untied and trust in Allah?” The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Tie her and trust in Allah.”
(Sunan al-Tirmidhī, 2517)
Surely, Allah is aware of our intentions and efforts. All we need to do is reflect on ourselves and our practices and work for the greater good of our children’s upbringing and success.
May Allah help us all raise mindful children who grow up to please Him and to preserve the Muslim Ummah. Ameen.
Umm Ahmed is an early childhood educator and mother of three boys. Always on the quest to learn, she is passionate about seeking knowledge and passing it on to others. A writer in the making, she draws inspiration through deep conversations, laws of nature, and her own children. She and her family are currently living in Abu Dhabi, UAE.