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Monday, December 06, 2004

Coping With an Ill-Tempered Child

By: Shaikh Salman al-Awdah

Source: www.islamtoday.net


It never ceases to amaze me how many people complain about their
children’s bad tempers and have not the faintest idea what to do when their
children get angry.

We are often surprised and hurt by the things we hear our children say
in anger, their hands folded across their chests, words like: “I hate
you!” and “I don’t want you!” and “I don’t love you anymore!” Children
say such things when they are angry, and parents are often at a loss to
respond with anything other than harsh words, curses, and a good smack.
Most parents have no better remedy to administer and justify themselves
by saying that they are disciplining their children for their bad
manners.

In truth, cursing and hitting the child is nothing more than a hasty
reaction from the parents dressed up in the guise of “discipline”.

There are many things that the parents need to take into consideration
in order to handle the situation correctly and remedy their children’s
tempers:

* When we consider the guidance of the Prophet (p.b.u.h.), we observe
that he never once struck his wife or servant. I am not merely
discussing the question of “to hit or not to hit”. What I am saying is that
hitting often exacerbates the problem far more than it remedies it.

* Many parents are confused about what they should do first when their
child gets angry – should they focus on the cause of the anger or on
the anger itself?

In my personal estimation, it seems that seeking a solution for the
cause of the anger is better than trying to remedy the anger itself.
Eliminating the cause of a problem is invariably a solution to the problem.

* If we as adults fail to exhibit any self-restraint when we are angry,
how can we expect our children to do so? It is important for us to
raise our children to know how to stay calm and collected and deal with
things in a rational manner. If we are neglectful in this, then we will
have no recourse but to calm the child down when he gets angry and then
try to find out how to deal with the cause of his anger.

There is an old Arab saying that goes: “You cannot give what you do not
have.” This is true. If the parent has a bad temper and is unable to
control himself when he gets angry, how can he fault his child for the
same? The parent is the role model. The child does what he sees his
parents doing.

* Why should we not discuss the matter with our children when they get
angry? Isn’t it better to use such a tone than it is to cry and shout,
which only causes the child even more distress? There is no problem
with using a conversational tone in discussing matters with our children.
In the Quran, we see that the Lord of All the Worlds uses such a tone
with his angels and His Prophets. We see the Prophet Solomon (p.b.u.h.)
using such a tone even when he speaks to a bird. Is not it more
appropriate for us to do so with our children who are our own flesh and blood?

Many parents address their children in a demeaning, condescending tone,
simply because their children are small and their young minds have not
matured. The parents see that the time to show respect has not yet
arrived. I see this as a big mistake, though one that is very common. If we
look to the Prophet (p.b.u.h.) for guidance, we see that he behaved
very respectfully towards children.

* We need to exercise a lot of patience when dealing with children. A
child is naturally eager and impressionable, with an unlimited
imagination. It is wrong to expect him to behave like an adult when he has yet
to learn to distinguish between what is beneficial and what is harmful.
This explains to us the reason why the Prophet (p.b.u.h.) descended
from the pulpit to meet his grandchildren al-Hasan and al-Husayn, even
though many prominent Companions were standing before him.

* It is a serious mistake for our children to feel unloved by his
parents. This is the case even when the child is being punished. The feeling
of love should be ever-present, even when administering bitter
medicine. This is especially true since our children have hold of our hearts,
and in spite of their tender years, they have an influence over us.

* We need to accustom our children to communicating their feelings to
us, to express themselves properly when they are angry instead of crying
and shouting.

When we come to know the cause of the anger, we need to speak to our
children on their own level and explain matters to them in a way that
they can understand. We cannot deal with them as if they were adults like
ourselves, we must deal with them on their own level, no matter how
trivial their problems may seem to us.

We can think about how a little girl took the Prophet’s hand and he
allowed her to lead him around wherever she wanted to go.

A child needs to feel that he lives in an environment of controlled
freedom. He should not live in an atmosphere of constant control and
domination so that he represses his feelings and his identity.

* In one survey, it was determined that 70% of the children living in
the Gulf region suffer from psychological disorders of one kind or
another. We find ourselves between two opposite extremes – that of going
overboard in controlling and disciplining our children and that of utter
laxity. What is needed is a just balance.

I know some very respectable people who insist on pining over every
detail when it comes to “raising” their children, so much so that the
child can scarcely breathe without being taken to account for it. When the
father comes to me with his son in tow, the boy’s face is ashen and he
is visibly disturbed. This is because the child is not allowed to act
in any way other than according to his father’s mindset, which is an
impossible burden for the mind of a small child.

* We must teach our children to seek means to control their anger. We
might instruct them to perform ablutions or to sit down if they are
standing or to take hold of a book or some other object. If he does so and
his anger subsides, then he should be commended and rewarded for
keeping his anger under control. Do not withhold the praise when your child
keeps himself calm. Let him know with your words and gestures that you
recognize his achievement. Give him a little token of appreciation, even
just the pen in your shirt pocket.

* Allow the child to role-play. Be the angry one and let your child try
to calm you down. Let his try whatever means he feels are appropriate.

* It is better for a child to say “I feel angry because of this or
that” than it is for him to scream and shout.

* The dictatorial approach is not always the right one. We need to
avoid saying things like “Shut up!” “Get out of my sight!” “If I get my
hands on you, I am going to break your head!” and “Don’t use that impudent
tone with me!”

At times, might we rather say: “Dear, I am your father (or mother, as
the case may be) and I love you. I feel it when you are angry, so do not
distress me so.” What is important is for the child to empathize with
your feelings. The child today will be an adult tomorrow, and if we do
not develop such an empathy with our children when they are young, we
may regret it down the road.

* We should take to heart the example of the Prophet (p.b.u.h.). Anas
said about him: “I swear by Allah. I have never seen anyone show more
mercy to his family that Allah’s Messenger (p.b.u.h.).” (Sahih Muslim
2316)

The Prophet (p.b.u.h.) loved children. He wept when his little son
Ibrahim died.

Whenever a child was born, they would bring the child to the Prophet
(p.b.u.h.) and he would offer supplications for the child. Sometimes he
would change a child’s name to a better one. He used to play with
children and humor them.

When al-Hasan, the Prophet’s grandson came running into the Prophet’s
room and jumped down in front of him, the Prophet (p.b.u.h.) embraced
him and kissed him and said: “O Allah! Love him and love those who love
him.” (Sahih al-Bukhari 2122 and Sahih Muslim 2421)

He would go to the mosque, carrying either al-Hasan or al-Husayn on his
shoulder. Once he prayed his prayers while carrying Umamah bint Zainab
in his arms. He consoled a small child whose pet bird had died. He
would even seek the permission of a child sitting to his right to allow him
to offer a drink first to some elders on his left. When the child
refused to waive his right, the Prophet (p.b.u.h.) served the child first.
We see where `Amr b. Salamah was appointed to lead the prayers for his
people though he was only six years old, simply because he was the most
knowledgeable among them of the Quran.

Examples like these abound, and when we regard them, the greatness of
the Prophet’s character becomes all the more evident to us. We realize
that the best schools of education and childrearing in the East and West
are in need of the light of our Prophet’s example.

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