“What we are, teaches our children far more than what we say.” This statement stands out as an excellent reminder for all parents. There is no denying that we all intend to instill values such as compassion, love, empathy in our children from an early age but there are times when or words do not match our actions. To fulfill the challenges of teaching our children kindness and nurturing it in their characters, we need to look to the lessons from our beloved Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, who has been the greatest role model for humanity. His exemplary personality which was reflective in his conduct and speech, serves as a universal guidance for mankind and one which we can gain inspiration from. The Prophet said:
“Indeed among the believers with the most complete faith is the one who is the best in conduct and the most kind to his family.”
Before we go on to instruct our children to be kind toward others, it is imperative that we reflect on ourselves and be mindful of our own interactions and speech. Here are six strategies that parents can adopt to foster the spirit of kindness within the family and community at large.
1. Make acts of kindness a daily habit.
Anything that is done with consistency stands a greater chance to be imbedded within the personality. By being conscious of our own dealings, such as with other family members, our neighbors, friends, co-workers, and even complete strangers, we are bound to set the bar of values and standards for our children to observe and learn from. According to Ali ibn Talib, the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
"Allah is Kind and loves kindness, and He rewards for kindness in a way that He does not reward for harshness."
There are plenty of opportunities that we can make use of in our day-to-day lives to ingrain kindheartedness in our children. These can be simple acts such as helping around the house, being considerate toward each other’s feelings and not letting our ego's consume us, helping out a sick neighbor, giving the elderly a hand with the groceries at the store, baby-sitting for a new mom, picking up trash from the street and making sure not to dump yours to cause inconvenience to anyone in any way, etc. These acts of kindness also serve as a means of charity, for which there is great reward.
Abu Dharr narrated that the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
"Your smiling in the face of your brother is charity, commanding good and forbidding evil is charity, your giving directions to a man lost in the land is charity for you. Your seeing for a man with bad sight is a charity for you, your removal of a rock, a thorn or a bone from the road is charity for you. Your pouring what remains from your bucket into the bucket of your brother is charity for you."
2. Show compassion for all living things.
Kindness and compassion are not just something we should reserve for our fellow human beings. Our beloved Prophet, peace be upon him, taught us that even animals and plants deserve to be well treated. Narrated Abu Huraira, the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
"A man felt very thirsty while he was on the way, there he came across a well. He went down the well, quenched his thirst and came out. Meanwhile he saw a dog panting and licking mud because of excessive thirst. He said to himself, ‘This dog is suffering from thirst as I did.’ So, he went down the well again and filled his shoe with water and watered it. Allah thanked him for that deed and forgave him. The people said, ‘O Allah's Messenger! Is there a reward for us in serving the animals?’ He replied: ‘Yes, there is a reward for serving any animate (living being).’"
(Sahih Al Bukhari)
And, it was reported by Shaddib b. Anus:
"Two are the things which I remember Allah's Messenger, peace and blessings be upon him, having said: Verily Allah has enjoined goodness to everything; so when you kill, kill in a good way and when you slaughter, slaughter in a good way. So every one of you should sharpen his knife, and let the slaughtered animal die comfortably."
Parents can reinforce the concept of kindness toward other beings by showing compassion, love and care toward animals and plants. Feeding stray animals or birds or looking after a friend's pet or garden while they are away are also some ways to extend kindness. Moreover, it helps to nurture the essence of being responsible, from an early age.
3. Practice what you preach.
Children generally tend to take parents as their role models. They are always watching us, trying to make sense through those observations, and consciously or subconsciously reciprocating those act.
This is why parents need to be ever watchful of their actions and speech before we begin to have differing expectations from our children. For instance, generally we tend to go out of the way to help a friend in need, but when it comes to helping a member of the family, we begin to look for an escape. This sends across a biased message to children, who may not necessarily speak up but are subconsciously normalizing the set principle. When modeling kindness, we must demonstrate and ingrain the principle to do for others what you would want them to do for you. Genuine kindness is one of the most important virtues in developing good character in your children.
Narrated Aishah, the mother of the believers, may Allah be pleased with her:
"I have not seen anyone closer in conduct, way, and manners to that of the Messenger of Allah in regards to standing and sitting, than Fatimah the daughter of the Messenger of Allah. Whenever she would enter upon the Prophet he would stand to her and kiss her, and he would sit her in his sitting place. Whenever the Prophet entered upon her she would stand from her seat, and kiss him and sit him in her sitting place.”
4. A little empathy goes a long way.
Being empathetic compliments being kind.
The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, loved children very dearly. He would also take an active interest in their lives. One such instance was when the pet bird of a young child Abu Umair died and he went out of his way to try and console him. Anas bin Malik, may Allah be pleased with him, narrated the instance and said:
"The Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him, used to come to visit us. I had a younger brother who was called Abu ‘Umair by nickname (kunyah). He had a sparrow which he played with, but it died. So one day the Prophet came to see him and saw him grieving. He asked: 'What is the matter with him?' The people replied: 'His sparrow has died.' The Prophet then said: 'Oh Abu ‘Umair! What has happened to the little sparrow?'"
(Sunan Abi Dawud)
Sometimes on account of similar instances, adults tend to brush aside the feelings of young children without realizing how deep an impact that might leave on their personality and growth. The lack of validation can damage the trust and hinder communication as the child may then become fearful of sharing their feelings and emotions. This negatively impacts a child's emotional development.
Bearing this in mind, we must be mindful of allowing ourselves to not only be empathetic toward our children but also reinforce and nurture empathy toward other creations of Allah. For instance, bringing home a sick animal and providing it shelter till it regains health or letting an ant cross its path and not treading on it.
5. Model patience.
It is human nature that when we are emotionally hurt or have been spoken to harshly, it impacts our mood and makes us more susceptible to react in the same way (or even worse). We’ve all been there. It takes true strength to be able to let go and return the evil with good.
Anas ibn Malik was a young boy when he had the honor of serving the Prophet, may peace and blessings be upon him. He narrated:
“I served the Prophet, peace be upon him, for ten years, and he never said to me, ‘Uff’ (a minor harsh word denoting impatience) and never blamed me by saying, "Why did you do so or why didn't you do so?”
Prophet Muhammad’s, peace and blessings be upon him, way of correcting his companions or others was very gentle and he would make sure that he did not humiliate anyone in any way, especially in public. Following on his example, we must model patience in order to nurture the same in our children.
A child is bound to err at times, but when we show impatience and raise our voices as a means to rebuke their behavior, we are inherently promoting a similar chain reaction of aggression. Instead, we must model patience and guide our children to take route of similar strategies, such as sitting down when they are feeling furious, drinking water, or making ablution.
6. Remain humble.
Being humble calls for valuing interactions that we have with every other human being, irrespective of their race, culture, faith or social status. As mentioned earlier, children are naturally curious and observant, therefore, it is important to be wary of what we are modeling for our children.
Having a little chat with a sales person at the grocery store, refraining from making judgments about people from different cultural backgrounds which do not align with your own values, and genuinely complimenting a hard working laborer are just some of the ways we can showcase humbleness through our interactions.
The famous incident of the old lady who used to throw trash on the Messenger of Allah, may peace and blessings be upon him, serves as an exemplary practice for us to showcase kindness in exchange of harshness. For he, the Messenger of Allah, returned her unkindness with generosity by inquiring about her when he found her to be missing and when he came to know that she was sick, he went visit her and offered his help. This act of kindness was extraordinary and the woman came to embrace Islam because of it.
In addition to this, many of us would agree that the most personal fulfillment comes when a good deed is not recounted to anyone. Remaining humble and not highlighting the act preserves its intent and calls for a greater reward and mercy from Allah in return, inshaAllah.
7. Make duaa or supplication.
Making supplications or duaa for your children is also the prophetic way. It is reported that a parent’s supplications for one's children are not rejected by Allah. It was narrated that Abu Hurayrah that the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
“There are three prayers that will undoubtedly be answered: the prayer of one who has been wronged; the prayer of the traveller; and the prayer of a father concerning his child.”
(Sahih Tirmidhi, Dawood, and Ibn Maajah)
Al-Azeemabaadi, may Allah have mercy on him, referenced the phrase “the prayer of a father,” explaining that the mother is not mentioned because her right is greater, so her prayer is more likely to be answered (‘Awn al-Ma‘bood, 4/276).
By role modeling kindness and encouraging our children to do the same irrespective of what we receive in return, we can help nurture an unconscious habit that will become second nature to them. In present times, where Muslims around the world are treated unjustly on many fronts, paying heed to the Sunnah of our Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, can help guide us on how to reciprocate ill treatment and use kindness and tolerance as a weapon against brutality.
May Allah help us remain steadfast on our deen, adopt good practices by following on the Sunnah of our beloved Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, and help nurture kindness, compassion, love and mercy into our future generations. 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.