September 27, 2013

Sunnah of Childcare: Being Just Between Children

As Muslims, justice is a theme that drives and forms the foundation for much of our interaction with others, even when it’s against our own selves.
Allah, subhana wa ta ala, says in the Qur’an (translation): “O you who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even if it is against your own selves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be for rich or poor, for Allah can best protect both. Follow not the lusts of your hearts, lest you swerve, and if you distort justice or decline to do justice, verily Allah is well-acquainted with all that you do.” –Surah An-Nisaa, ayah 135.

This theme also applies directly in how we deal with our children. In Islam, we are obligated to be just with our children, avoiding any and all preferential treatment with one child over another, even in the case of something as simple as giving a gift.
In Sahih Bukhari and Muslim, there is an authentic report on the authority of Nu’man ibn Bashir that his father gave him a bondsman. But his mother said, “I will not agree to it unless you make Allah’s Messenger, peace be upon him, a witness to it.” So the father went to the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, and told him what he had done. The Prophet, peace be upon him, asked, “Have you given to everyone of your children the like of what you have given to An-Nu’man?” The father replied in the negative. So the Prophet, peace be upon him, said, “Fear Allah and be just to your children.” In another narration, the Prophet, peace be upon him, responded: “Then take back your gift.” And in another narration, he, peace be upon him, responded, “Do not ask me to testify because I do not testify to injustice.” 

And in being just, there lies great wisdom. Think of the possible effects on our children, and in turn on us, if we made it a habit to not be just: 
  • We could inspire jealousy or hatred between our children.
  • We could establish feelings of low self-esteem or low self-worth amongst our children who feel they are not favored as much as other siblings. Or even arrogance amongst our children who feel that they are favored more!
  • We could create emotional distance between ourselves and our children.
  •  We could be a cause of our children becoming defiant and disobedient to us.
  • We could be a cause of our children turning away from Islam, may Allah protect our families.

In his book, Child Education in Islam, Author ‘Abdullah Nasih ‘Ulwan says about unjust treatment of children by family members, “unequal treatment of children is considered the gravest factor in the psychological deviation of children, in addition to the resultant sense of self-abasement, envy and hatred.” 

He goes on to say that even physical or moral reasons, such as preferring one child over another because of their beauty, intelligence, or physical state, are not justifiable reasons for being unjust in terms of our care and treatment of children.

So in what ways can we maintain justice between our children?

1. Recognize and understand the differing natures and needs of our children.
Though they may take on similar characteristics or behavior, every child is unique in their own right. Different children will have different passions, sensitivities, and needs. And all of these will change over time depending on each child’s age, experience, etc. Recognizing the individual differences in each child can help to ensure that each child’s needs are being met in a just way.

2. Remain fair in giving gifts.
If you give gift a gift to one child, give a gift to the others. This, of course should be done on an appropriate level with consideration of the state of mind, preferences and nature of each child. For example, you wouldn’t give the exact same gift to a child who is 2 years and a child who is 16 years.

3. Avoid creating situations that may breed jealousy or worse.
Jealousy can quickly turn to anger, which can quickly turn to envy, which can quickly turn to hatred. Nip this in the bud by making it a point to show affections equally, praise equally, discipline equally, and avoid comparisons.

When it comes to discipline, discipline each child with what is appropriate, making sure not to let one child get away with something you wouldn’t want another one to do. Also, try not to cause embarrassment for a child by making a display of their reprimands and/or punishments in front of the other children. Doing this can easily make them singled out and picked on.

When praise is due, try not to focus all your praise on one child while ignoring others. Every child is unique and has unique qualities that are worthy of praise. Seek out and encourage the praise-worthy qualities in all of your children to help them all feel appreciated, paid attention to, and help inspire them all to more good.  

Stay away from comparative language such as “why can’t you be like your brother?” or “But your sister already had this down when she was your age.” Comparing children to one another can easily foster feelings of low self-esteem and envy.

Show equal affection to all of your children! Too often one child is hugged more, kissed more, or told I love you more than another and this can have create many negative feelings in a child. If you kiss one, kiss them all. Hug them all. Tell them all that you love them and care for them. You don’t need to be excessive or unnatural about your affections, but do be fair.

4. Involve children in one another’s routines and family decisions.
Let’s say that you’re expecting a new addition to the family, try to involve older children in the discussions of what is to come and routines/standard of care that the baby will need.  This may help keep older siblings from feeling jealous of any necessary extra attention the baby has to get.

If there’s a routine that an older child can’t be directly involved in, such as breastfeeding a younger sibling, try having dad spend time with the older child during that time so they don’t feel neglected. Or make it a point to let the older child know that you’re going to breastfeed the baby and when you’re done you will come right away to play, read, or talk with them. When children are involved and aware of what is to come, they are less likely to succumb to feelings of inadequacy or neglect.

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