Renewing our Relationships with Mercy: Three Parenting Practices to Implement
Our children are adorable when they are babies and small infants. It is easier to be patient, to forgive their misdemeanors by virtue of their chubby, kissable cheeks, to overlook their mistakes and even their deliberate defiance. But at some point our children get older and less forgivable, our yelling becomes more regular…and you know the rest.
“He who does not show mercy to our young ones or recognize the rights of our elders is not one of us,” the Prophet of Allah told us.
Some of the most important human relationships that need to be renewed are the ones we have with the children in our lives. When I become harsh or impatient, I remember the trust I wish to foster with my children as I teach them about their religion, and I go back to remembering the mercy of the Messenger of Allah, who was kind and gentle to the most stubborn of adults, let alone a small, soft-hearted child, one that has no bad deeds and is closer to their fitrah than myself. As Allah said to the Prophet peace be upon him, “… if you had been rude [in speech] and harsh in heart, they would have disbanded from about you.”
Children are of the most innocent and vulnerable of society, and our Prophet (saw) always treated the weak and vulnerable with compassion. While they need plenty of affection, cuddles and love, there are also three additional practices I also hope to implement with my children in modelling good manners and character in Islam: Speaking Respectfully, Allowing Emotions and Disciplining with Connection.
- Speaking Respectfully
If we want our children to learn to be respectful and listen to others’ limits, we need to model that behavior for them. Do we ask children to do tasks for us with the manners we expect them to show us, or do we order them around and make demands? Even when Anas was a young boy and failed to carry out a task, the Prophet (pbuh) never became exasperated with him or even said ‘Why did you do that?’
Do we teach the values of honesty and kindness by making sure not to mock and tease our children with jokes? The Prophet (pbuh) was always extremely honest with children and respected their feelings. A companion narrated that his mother called him over with a promise of a gift. The Prophet asked what gift she had planned to give him, advising her that if she did not give the gift she mentioned, it would count against her as a lie.
As children will often, unfortunately or not, ‘do what you do and not what you say’, they reflect back to us our own mannerisms and behaviour perhaps more than we care to admit. We can model respect by asking politely, not lying or teasing, giving choices where appropriate, avoiding labels such as ‘bad’ or ‘stupid’ which devalue the child’s self worth, and instead focus on addressing the behaviour we wish for them to change.
- Allowing Emotions
The human need for validation and acknowledgement is extremely strong. With our children, it is important not to shut down their emotion as it arises. Have you ever had so many stresses and difficulties piling up on you that you break down over the slightest thing, something you wouldn’t usually cry about? Imagine if you broke down, and your husband ignored you? Laughed at you and called you dramatic? Or told you to stop moaning? However trivial they appear to us, the stresses our children face are very real to them. Sometimes those stressors are not even as obvious as hunger or tiredness, but could be the child’s response to parental arguing, a new baby, or a change in nursery or school.
Children are no different to us, and in fact, they are not able to repress their emotions as effectively as adults do, which can contribute to unexplained illnesses, depression and anxiety. These outbursts are healthy, and if we welcome them and reflect back the child’s feelings verbally, they will begin to develop emotional intelligence and empathy overtime. Once we have fully listened to their feelings, we can also help them to identify solutions to their own problems if they are older. The Prophet peace be upon him was emotionally intelligent, he listened to others despite how busy he was and even noticed a small boy that was sad and went to comfort him after his bird had died.
- Disciplining with Connection
Disciplining or, in the original Latin, ‘teaching’ your child doesn’t have to be harsh to be effective. You can keep a limit firmly while maintaining calmness and kindness. We can hold children back as gently as we can when we need to. We can remove objects that are being misused. But it all, very realistically can still be done with a kind, and loving intent. When we are harsh, or frightening, our children may learn to obey us out of fear, and not out of respect or due to developing their own internal values of right and wrong.
The Prophet (pbuh), the best of creation and our role model, never hit a child, and only directed us to without causing harm once the child becomes ten years old and is negligent with their salah. The times we feel like hitting may be when we ourselves have lost control. A great way to regain perspective and composure is to take a time out for yourself. Walk away, breathe, and become aware of your own inner dialogue. Children of course need many limits to feel safe; however when these limits are more often set with parental anger or insults the child no longer feels ‘healthy’ shame, but a humiliation that could prevent the child from developing the inner moral compass required to curb future negative behavior. An example based on personal experience; you have a new baby, and your toddler knocks them over on purpose. Repeatedly. They are clearly jealous, and not coping well with ‘sharing’ their mother. You could hit them to teach them not to do it again. You could yell, or any other intimidating behavior to coerce your child into complying. Or, you could get onto your knees to their level and say; ‘you seem really upset today. I won’t let you knock your brother over, it hurts him. I’m going to help keep you both safe by keeping you on my lap.” Connect, make eye contact, offer a hug. Understand that they are having a hard time. Maybe later when large emotions have subsided open a discussion about how difficult it can be having a new baby brother or sister and having less attention for themselves, with an anecdote about your own experiences as a child with a new sibling. These ‘difficult’ moments can present great opportunities for connection and more role modeling. Overtime, our children can begin to notice their own feelings and self-regulate.
No parent is perfect, but if we recognize our mistakes, change our own behavior and apologise to our children when required, perhaps if we keep in mind the Islamic principle of mercy when we teach them as the Prophet so often did with his people, maybe, God Willing, – we can better preserve their sinless hearts to receive the message of Divine Mercy, for as Allah, Ar-Rahman Ar-Raheem has said; ‘My Mercy surpasses my Wrath.”
About the author:
Hannah Charlotte Athauda reverted to Islam in 2010. She has a BA Honours in War Studies and a Diploma in Positive Discipline. She is passionate about helping children grow as their most authentic, creative selves. She lives in London with her family and enjoys playing with her two energetic little boys, napping and researching psychology in her spare time.
 Musnad Aḥmad 7033
 Quran 3:159
 Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 5691, Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 2309
 Extract from “Children Around the Prophet” by Hesham Al-Awadi
 P62, “No Drama Discipline” by D. Siegel and T. Brayne
 Riyadussaliheen Book 1, Hadith 419