As outlined in a previous article, parents of young children (pre-school age) should have few expectations in terms of behavior and acquisition of knowledge due to the cognitive limitations at this age. This does not mean that children should be allowed to run about and do as they please; they still require guidelines and boundaries. What it does mean is that care should be taken regarding the methods that are used to raise children and the values that are instilled from the very beginning. It is interesting to note that the Arabic term tarbiyah, which is often used to mean teaching or training, generally refers to growth, increase, nourishment, and cultivation. This relates to the physical, intellectual, emotional, psychological, and spiritual aspects of an individual. When thinking of growth and cultivation this implies that something has already been planted or is already present (natural fitrah). Tarbiyah then refers to the various methods that are used to watch over and attend to a child until he or she becomes prepared to take responsibility and behave in complete submission to and worship of Allah, subhanahu wa ta'ala. The following suggestions are techniques that may be used for tarbiyah for early childhood.
Play, Play, Play: Play should be the primary emphasis during this time in a child's life since this is the means through which they gain an understanding of the world around them. Pretend or imaginative play is the most common type of play during this stage and this directly impacts cognitive, social, and psychological development. Children will often mimic or imitate the behavior of adults or other children around them in their play, which is their way of preparing for their particular roles in life. Girls will most often imitate their mother, and boys will follow in the footsteps of their father. You will see girls playing with dolls, dressing and feeding them and boys in more rough-and-tumble physical types of play. These gender roles develop at an early age and are a natural part of Allah's plan for the differentiation of responsibilities for men and women. These and other types of play should be encouraged and fostered in young children.
Prevention: The saying "Prevention is the best medicine" is true not only in the medical field, but also within psychology. There are many steps that parents can take to prevent misbehavior and avoid the disruption that this can cause within the family. First of all, children need predictability, structure, and guidelines because this gives them a sense of security and a feeling that there is order in the world. When this is present they are less likely to feel anxious or stressed which, in turn, will decrease the likelihood of inappropriate behavior. Children will sometimes act chaotic if they are in a chaotic environment. Secondly, probably the most common reason for misbehavior is to gain attention from a parent or other adults. A defining feature of being human is the need for social contact, approval, and attention that is already present at birth. When parents fulfill this need adequately, a child will feel content and be more likely to engage in solitary play. If a child is not able to obtain attention through positive behavior, he or she may utilize negative behavior for this purpose. Parents can fulfill this need by spending quality time with their child (e.g., talking, playing, reading, enjoying nature, and much more). Quality is often more important than quantity.
Rewarding Positive Behavior: The concept of rewards and punishments is an integral part of Islamic 'Aqidah as there are natural consequences for each of our actions. This same wisdom can be applied to the area of parenting. The Messenger of Allah, sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam, said that Allah, subhanahu wa ta'ala, says, "Allah has written down the good deeds and the bad ones. Then He explained it (by saying that) he who has intended a good deed and has not done it, Allah writes it down with Himself as a full good deed; but if he has intended it and has done it, Allah writes it down with Himself as from ten good deeds to seven hundred times, or many times over. But if he has intended a bad deed and has not done it, Allah writes it down with Himself as a full good deed, but if he has intended it and has done it, Allah writes it down as one bad deed." [Bukhari and Muslim] Allah's mercy can be seen in this Hadith Qudsi and this should be reflected in a parent's tarbiyah as well. Rewards are effective in not only increasing the occurrence of positive behavior, but also in decreasing negative behavior and increasing a child's self-esteem. The most effective rewards for children are those that are the easiest to give: praise, encouragement, hugs, thanks, etc.
Ignoring Misbehavior: Many of the inappropriate behaviors of young children can simply be ignored or disregarded. The Prophet, sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam, is our best example in this regard. Anas ibn Malik said, "The Messenger of Allah, sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam, had the best disposition among people. One day he sent me on an errand and I said, 'By Allah, I will not go,' but it was in my mind that I would do as the Messenger of Allah had ordered me. I went until I came upon children playing in the street. Then the Messenger of Allah, sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam, arrived and he caught me by the back of my neck from behind. As I looked at him, I found him smiling, and he said, 'Unays (Anas' nickname), did you go where I asked you to go?' I said, 'O Messenger of Allah, yes, I am going.'" Anas said further, "I served him for nine years, but I do not know that he ever said to me about anything I did, why I did that, or about anything I had neglected, why I had not done that." [Muslim] We may want to compare this to how we react to or interact with our own children. For young children, in particular, it is really counterproductive to berate, question, and reprimand when they really have little understanding as to why they acted in a certain way. Simply ignoring the behavior may be the most appropriate response. Another related technique is to redirect the child to something else in the environment to draw attention away from the undesirable.
It is important to realize that within these general guidelines there are about as many ways to parent as there are parents. Parents need to take into consideration the unique personalities, dispositions, and gifts of each child when deciding upon a particular approach. What may work with one child may not necessarily be effective with another. It is also imperative to remember that our children are one of the greatest tests that we have from Allah, subhanahu wa ta'ala, and we need to continually ask Him for assistance and guidance for ourselves and our children. This is the most effective and powerful tool for tarbiyah.
"When My servants ask you (Muhammad) concerning Me, I am indeed near. I respond to the prayer of every suppliant when he calls on Me. Let them also, with a will, listen to My call and believe in Me, that they may walk in the right way." [Al-Qur'an 2:186]
(s) Al-Jumu'ah Magazine