SubhanAllah, just as I was looking for some parenting inspiration (for my mental exercise called the Islamic Parenting Project), muslimmatters.org came out with an article titled: The Youth Outreach Program of Muhammad (sal-Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam). I could go on and on about all of the points, but this one struck me because it is the one hadith that I constantly come back to when I think “gentle discipline” and it is the main hadith that serves to remind me that gentleness is truly the Prophetic path:
Anas was a small child when he was given as a servant to the Prophet (s). About his time there, he narrated that, I served the Prophet for ten years, and he never said to me, “Uf” (a minor harsh word denoting impatience or displeasure) and never blamed me by saying, “Why did you do so or why didn’t you do so?” (Bukhari)
The author of the article goes on to say:
SubhanAllah. This is truly amazing from a number of angles. We normally see this hadith as a testament to the truly noble character of the Prophet (saw), however, there is another perspective here. That is the lasting effects of this on a 10 year old boy for his entire life. What kind of person will he become when he was raised upon this methodology? [Radi’Allahu ‘anhu, we know what kind of great man he became] This is the lasting memory of a lifetime that this child will have. He will remember never being criticized, never scorned, and always being treated with kindness, compassion, and patience.
Anyone who has a child knows how difficult it would be to go even 10 hours (in some cases 10 minutes) much less 10 years without scolding their own child about something. What then, about someone else’s child, one whom you have even less patience to deal with? We should compare our own parenting methods, our own ways of interacting with kids in light of this example.
I take this first and foremost to my heart when I say that this truly shows that one can raise a child without harshness (I didn’t say without firmness, mind you). And I remind myself first that it shows that “children are people too.” This, along with the hadith “Do not get angry, do not get angry, do not get angry” is my mantra when I lose my patience with children, whether it be my toddling son or a student in a classroom. I know how easy it is to “lose it” and respond with scolding, threats, and anger. I’ve been there, done that, to the point that as a teacher in the classroom I became a person I did not want to be. I became a person who forgot that those children in front of me were people, with feelings and emotions just like myself.
Perhaps it is because we are older, wiser, have more experience of the world, and have experienced it ourselves, but somehow as adults we feel complete license to shame, berate, threaten, and manipulate children. Does might make right? Our authoritative position turns us into authoritarians? I may not know exactly why, but I know that the impulse is there and I have to strain mightily hard to restrain it. I often fail miserably, too.
Yet even so, even as I may fall far short of the ideal, I still maintain: there is never a need to treat children in such a way. Firmness? Yes, youth and inexperience do often need a firm hand. Yet I see nothing to indicate that this ever needs to translate into harshness. As an adult I have nothing to gain from shaming a child into obedience save the erosion of my own character, because if I need to resort to such tactics, it reflects more on my lack of creativity and kindness rather than on the child’s character.
There is a saying in Arabic: “Faaqid-ush-shay’ laa yu’teeh”…”The one who does not have something cannot give it.” I cannot possibly instill the virtues of gentleness and mercy in a child if I do not show it myself. I cannot possibly teach a child patience if I do not model it myself.
I remind myself how it would feel were my spouse to treat me as we often treat our children. I remind myself how it would feel if a friend scolded me upon making a mistake. Just as my feelings become hurt if a loved one raises their voice, scolds, or becomes harsh, so too do the hearts of our children and students ache when we, the loving role models, put them down with our harsh attitudes.
I pray that Allah heals our hearts, instills in us patience, and guides us to noble character…Aameen!