Top Ten Tarbiyah Mistakes Part 2

These notes are the continuation of the Tarbiyah lecture by Sr. Iman Badawi. This section is much more fleshed out than the first one, because I had access to the replay and put more information in. The recording of the lecture is available at this link.

Tarbiyah Mistake #4: Making Sure that 90% of What You Say is Commands, Prohibitions, and Threats

  • We think that leadership = commands, prohibitions, threats
  • Children don’t like being ordered around all the time any more than we do
  • Imagine if our spouse or boss was constantly giving commands, prohibitions, and threats–how would we respond?
  • We have a lot of fear, stress, and we take it out on our children when we constantly snap at them
  • There are two issues involved in a child’s behavior:
    1. The child learning and knowing what to do
    2. The child having the self control to implement what they know
    • A child may, at a certain age, have the first, but not the second. They know what to do, but don’t have the self control to be able to follow through on their knowledge
    • Children learn through example and instruction–this is how we teach them the “dos” and “don’ts” so that they know what to do
    • Children develop through relationships, and that is how they develop the self control over time to regulate their behavior.
    • It is problematic when we have an eye on compliance rather than relationships

  • The real message we are sending: “if you don’t obey me, one of us is going to collapse.”
  • “I am the older one, therefore I am going to subdue you.”
  • We do these behaviors supposedly because we love them
  • So, what do we do? == Build a relationship out of love
  • If someone you love and respect asks you to do something, do they have to threaten you to do it? No, we will do it lovingly, effortlessly, voluntarily.
  • This is what Allah wants from us. “Laa ikraaha fid-deen.” There is no compulsion in religion.
  • Yet Allah gives us commands. We enter in Islam of our own free will, we obey Allah out of our own inner desire to obey him.
  • Imagine that the government/sultan put a soldier over every citizen commanding them to pray–this is not what Islam orders. We pray out of our love for him.
  • Allah is exalted over all examples, but this is what we want with our children, that they obey from a desire and love to obey him.
  • This is why the Prophet had the best tarbiyah–Allah is the one who developed his character. Hadith: “Addabanee rabbee wa ahsana ta’deebee” My Rabb taught me manners and perfected my manners.

  • We don’t want everything to be a confrontation
  • We want the obedience to come out of the love
  • Is this idealistic? We think it cannot be done but we have to change our way of thinking
  • “But it’s my right that my child obey me”
  • However, the right of the child of the parent comes before the right of the parent over the child.
  • If the parent doesn’t fulfill the child’s right, how can they expect that the child fulfill their right?
  • Tip: Quality Time
    • The best quality time is sharing a task and cooperating to complete it. This develops relationships and shows the children their dependence on the family unit.
    • The idea is not that we always have to be looking for “fun” and “entertainment.”
    • The antithesis of moral development is the child’s attitude: “I don’t need you, I can do anything I want.” This breeds arrogance and builds the confrontational attitude.
    • Sometimes we ask for it when we thrust independence on the child too early–then when they demand premature independence, we get upset.

Tarbiyah Mistake #5: Assuming Your Child Thinks Like You

  • You assume that they can maturely rationalize everything that you can maturely rationalize.
  • Ex: Father tells very young son who is bike riding, “don’t go around the corner.” When son repeatedly disobeys and finally father yells and explodes, son tearfully asks, “dad, what’s a corner?”
  • This goes back to the last point–if we are commanding all the time, where are the times where we sit down and just make them understand?
  • “I didn’t understand what you meant”– we should take the statement at face value, don’t assume child is lying to you. If you do that and assume they are a liar, they will eventually become a liar.
  • “Ok, what did you understand?” — when you ask that, it will become clear what they really understood.
  • Negative attitude–“I understood what I ordered you, if you didn’t understand it, then it’s your problem.”
  • Understand their developmental levels, and develop realistic expectations
    • Sometimes we set our children up for failure because we give overly high expectations (i.e. things that are beyond their developmental level)
    • Sometimes when we are patching up wounds of previously detrimental failure, we might want to set the bar a little lower so that we set them up for success instead of failure.
    • This relieves our own stress–because the more we are negative with our kids, the more negative we feel, and so therefore the more positive we are with our kids, the more positive we are in ourselves.
  • We sometimes end up as a blown fuse–we have no energy left, and our kid may only be five.
  • Tarbiyah has to be dynamic to fit the different stages of development.
  • e.g. responsibility is developed slowly over time, and we develop it slowly over time
  • One of those aspects of development is that attachment should be at its peak when the child is an infant.
    • e.g. Dr. Sears
    • Unfortunately, when we talk about attachment, people may think we are “hippies” but in reality the focus these days on attachment is a backlash against the previous advice
    • separation anxiety–it’s like a message to the parent, don’t push this child away, they are designed to be attached to you at this time.
    • One form of trauma occurs when there is a premature reaching of stages, so a premature detachment from parent before it is developmentally appropriate.

Up next insha Allah… Tips 6 & 7…


Coming Soon: the Top Ten Tarbiyah Mistakes

I just attended a fantastic halaqah… and those sisters who know me personally may feel free to email me and request that it be sent to them insha Allah, but the topic was:  Top Ten Tarbiyah Mistakes. Tarbiyah, as you may know, is the process of character development that we engage in with our children. So before going to the class, my thought was–Ouch!–we get to hear 2 hours of the ten biggest things we do wrong every day with our kids?

But as Allah (swt) says: “And remind, for verily, the reminder benefits the believers” (Adh-Dhariyaat: 55). Sometimes a swift kick in the proverbial arse is what we need to make a firm commitment to change, and boy was this a kick.

I really would like to take the time to type up my notes, but until then I will leave a teaser–I’ll put the ten points she mentioned, then come back with the notes as I can get them out (maybe 3-4 at a time). If you would like to get this and other blog updates straight to your inbox, feel free to add your email address in the box at the top of the right column and you will get the posts as they are published. In the future if you would like to unsubscribe, you can easily do so through the emails themselves, or just post a comment and I’ll unsub you.

Here goes, Letterman style—

The Top Ten Mistakes of Tarbiyah

  1. Choosing the wrong spouse–someone who differs with you on the fundamental issues of life and parenting.
  2. Considering tarbiyah as beginning at a later stage in life
  3. Letting the children control you and run the family
  4. Making sure that 90% of what you say is commands, prohibitions, and threats
  5. Assuming that your child thinks like you
  6. Using injurious and harmful words
  7. Never explaining anything and expecting immediate and prompt blind compliance
  8. Comparing your children to each other (in looks or behavior) and show favoritism
  9. Lying to your kids
  10. Assuming that you are the source of guidance for your children

Now…I don’t like leaving things hanging like that, because some of these are not clear in what they mean and I’m sure leaves the person scratching their head and saying, “but…”

However, the notes are long, I’d like to do them justice, so they will be back another day bi ‘idhnillah.

As a clue to some of the points of the halaqah, I’ll say that some of the topics mentioned include Steven Covey, Dr. Sears, racism, totalitarianism, family mission statements, principle-centered leadership/parenting, and punishment.

Ready? Check back soon! In the meanwhile, feel free to discuss the points so far…

Becoming a ScreamFree Mama

I want a ScreamFree life.

Funny that I was just thinking about that this weekend and today I came across this via facebook: Screamfree Muslims. In particular, the founder sr. Olivia is having a webinar course on screamFree parenting. I was just thinking to myself this weekend that me and the Man (aka Baba A to Z) need to work on cutting out the scream when it comes to the kids (sorry, Baba, I’m including you too!).

I’ll give myself some credit–I don’t justify screaming. I should say “emotional reactivity” instead, since that is the word that the ScreamFree program uses, and it’s a term that encompasses so much more than screaming. I know that it’s senseless to react, to blow up, and to say dumb and hurtful things in a moment of anger instead of logically handling a situation. But guess what…I do it anyway! I’m sure most parents do, it’s just a basic failing in human nature that we lose our temper. “Laa taghdab, laa taghdab, laa taghdab.” … “Do not get angry, do not get angry, do not get angry.” We’ve heard that hadith a million times.

And seriously? We know deep down that screaming.doesn’ End of story. It just becomes a crutch–child doesn’t listen until screamed at, so parent screams all the time, leading to screaming not even working, and an escalating cycle of screaming between parenting and child. It takes a big leap, however to go from the acknowledgement that something is wrong, and actually learning and applying techniques on how to fix it.

I’m not sure I’ll spring for the webinar–it’s close to a hundred dollars, and I think I can check out some books and handouts and get the gist. For me, the issue is keeping my mind focused on the goal of mindful parenting, and reading books helps me to focus on that. When I found the book Raising Your Spirited Child, it really helped me improve my parenting while I was reading it because I was suddenly more aware of what my child was like and what he needed. The reminder benefits the believers–no matter what the subject is, deen or dunya (and this is akhlaaq-related so it’s definitely deeni improvement).

My current mental exercise is–why not scream? What are the harms of screaming to one’s child? (or student, I should add, for I am also guilty of that one)

  1. Raising one’s voice is explicitly condemned in the Qur’an via the words of Luqman al-Hakeem as he advises his son: “And be moderate in your walk and lower your voice. Indeed, the harshest of voices is the voice of the donkey” (Surah Luqman: 31:19). From now on, I will tell myself–“Mama, when you scream, you sound like an ass.” And it will be true, because Sadaqa-allahul-Adheem.
  2. “Emotional reactivity”, i.e. getting angry, is explicitly condemned in the Sunnah. “Do not get angry, do not get angry, do not get angry.”
  3. Getting angry is in direct contradiction to the very character of RasulAllah (sallAllahu alayhi wa sallam.)
  4. You can’t impart something you don’t have yourself. The Arabic proverb goes: Faaqid-ush-Shay laa yu’teeh…the one devoid of something cannot give it. How do we teach good-manners if we are ill-mannered? I see my son scream at his little sister and know that my own screaming is what set the example. And God forbid that our children go on to scream at their spouses, destroying their marriages and family lives, simply because we set the wrong example from the beginning.
  5. Screaming tears apart relationships. Think about a time you have been screamed at. It doesn’t even take a full-blown scream to deeply wound a person. You know this when you are having a strained conversation with your spouse–it doesn’t take much of a raise in voice and tone from the other to feel hurt. We can only imagine the pain our own children feel. I remember reading a poignant thought by Alfie Kohn where he asked in reference to discipline–before we react to behavior that we perceive as bad, ask ourselves, “Is what we are saying/doing to our child in response worth the effect it is going to have on the relationship?”
  6. Screaming doesn’t even work in the long term. If we think of discipline as merely getting our children to do what we want in the here-and-now, then screaming occasionally works. However, if we think of discipline as raising our children to be morally upright individuals who have good character, then screaming definitely does no good towards that goal.

One of the criticisms leveled against this line of thinking is that somehow kids are different, so different standards should be applied to them, and that “you need to discipline.” ScreamFree parenting is not antithetical to discipline; in fact, it is harmonious with discipline because effective discipline does not occur in a scream-based relationship. Olivia has another great post describing this: DJ Empty Threat. We end up screaming empty threats and in the end no real discipline occurs.

So…this post has been somewhat of a personal pep-talk for myself–we’ll see how long I last sane and “ScreamFree.” And if you catch me slacking (yeah, you, Baba…) then just give me a sober look and say, “This is a ScreamFree zone, mama. Take it somewhere else, woman!”

a look at “Unconditional Parenting”

I’m reading Alfie Kohn’s book Unconditional Parenting. It’s thought provoking and challenges our assumptions about parenting (which, when you get down to it, often times translate into ASSumptions, but I digress…). Often times our disciplinary tactics send the message to children that we only love them when they do what we want. Haven’t got through much of it, but this comment by Dr. William Sears on the back cover was rather interesting: “This book underscores an important parenting principle: Discipline is more about having the right relationship with your child than having the right techniques.” Got me interested already.

One gripe I have about gentle discipline as it is perceived in the world today is that it’s often times confused for permissiveness and namby-pamby, lassiez-faire parenting where these new-agey parents spout some psychobabble over lattes as their progeny run amok, creating all sorts of havoc in the well-organized world.


Anyway. In an interview with Alfie Kohn he was asked if he wasn’t just advocating permissive parenting. His response?

First of all, the real problem today isn’t permissiveness. It’s the fear of permissiveness. We’re so afraid of spoiling our kids that we err in the opposite direction. I mean, sure, I’ve been annoyed by screaming children in restaurants whose parents don’t lift a finger to intervene, but for every example like that, there are hundreds of examples of children who are restricted unnecessarily, yelled at, threatened — basically bullied by their parents. Spend some time at a playground or a birthday party, you’ll see what I mean. The real parenting epidemic in our society is the tendency to overcontrol children. And, by the way, liberal, educated parents tend to use techniques that are less crude but no less controlling. My second point, though, is that I’m not arguing for more permissiveness. Kids don’t need us to back off and let them do whatever the hell they want, any more than they need us to control them. That’s a false dichotomy, and I reject both options. The real alternative to doing things to kids is to work with them.

(emphasis added)

That last bit is just brilliant: “Kids don’t need us to back off and let them do whatever the hell they want, any more than they need us to control them.”

I also like that parting shot at “liberal parents” too because I have seen some parenting books try to come off as being gentle and anti-punishment, etc. etc. but are really just more refined forms of the same thing. Call a spade a spade, please.

I’m looking forward to see what practical ideas Kohn has for parents in the trenches.

Child abuse as entertainment: UK’s “Bringing Up Baby”

A television show in the U.K. titled “Bringing Up Baby” is a new type of reality show that aims to put parenting methods of different eras to the test. Sounds interesting, no? It would be, if it were not for the fact that one of these methods is child abuse, pure and simple. The three methods are:

  1. Dr. Spock (1960s): In a nutshell, love, love, love. Throw out the guidebooks and just love your child. Try breastfeeding, but don’t worry if you end up feeding artificial milk.
  2. Continuum Concept (1970s): Breastfeeding on demand, emphasis on physical contact, constant physical contact with the caregiver for the first few months, cosleeping, and “it takes a village” approach.
  3. Dr. Frederick Truby King (1950s): In the words of the show’s website: Discipline — Predictability — Early detachment of baby and mother — Order — One size fits all — Start as you mean to go on

This third approach from the 1950’s is what I am focusing attention on, because this outdated method of childrearing is so horrendous, so abusive, that it has been refuted scientifically and from the medical community. Again, from the website, here are the details of this method:

  • Feeding every four hours
  • Night feeds get dropped as soon as possible to minimise length of time parents’ sleep is disrupted
  • Baby sleeps in own room from day one
  • Limiting the amount of contact between baby and carer – 10 minutes of cuddling per day
  • Baby spends several hours in the garden every day

Let’s pick these apart, shall we?

Scheduled Feedings

King’s approach requires parents to start their babies on a feeding schedule: feeds are only “allowed” every four hours. Commentator James Walton describes it:

Feeding, for example, takes place only every four hours, with no sentimental nonsense about bonding, or even making eye-contact. In between, including at night, they can cry as much as they like: they’re going to get neither grub nor consolation.

Any respectable pediatrician will say that scheduling feedings so far apart is, firstly, setting up a new mom to fail at breastfeeding, and secondly, putting that newborn at risk for failure to thrive. Another popular champion of scheduled feedings was the Book “On Being Babywize” by Ezzo, and it has been refuted by the American Academy of Pediatrics. At least the Ezzos were a bit more generous–they allowed feedings every two and a half to three hours in the initial weeks.

Denying a screaming, hungry infant food in the name of some parenting ideology is horrendous in the extreme. It is unconscionable to do so, as the show describes, for the purpose of “showing baby who’s boss.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics states:

Newborns should be nursed whenever they show signs of hunger, such as increased alertness or activity, mouthing, or rooting. Crying is a late indicator of hunger. Newborns should be nursed approximately eight to 12 times every 24 hours until satiety.

(AAP Policy Statement, “Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk,” Pediatrics, Dec. 1997)

As for night feeds, perhaps the parents who wish their beauty rest can hire a nanny to feed their child rather than subjecting her to fits of hungry screaming. Really, it’s quite laughable how they describe it, dropping night feedings “to minimise length of time parents’ sleep is disrupted.” Anyone with a young child can testify to the fact that if you were looking for uninterrupted sleep, you made the wrong choice having a baby.

Baby Sleeps in Own Room

I know this is a prickly subject, and I don’t include it under my heading of “child abuse,” so I will leave it well alone except to remark that health organizations in the U.K. have advised parents to reduce the risk of SIDS by placing their child’s crib (or “cot”) in the parents’ bedroom rather than in a separate room. This point of the program is hardly the most damaging so let’s move on…

Limited Physical Contact

The King’s child rearing program limits physical contact between parent and baby to 10 minutes per day. The rest of the time is hands-off. Claire Verity, the advocate of this method on the show, remarked:

“I don’t understand why anybody needs to touch a baby or pick a baby up.”

Hmmm…ever heard of those children who were raised in Eastern European orphanages, with limited physical contact and interaction with others? The results are not pretty. It goes to show how vitally necessary touch, affection, and attention really are in the life of a child.

In the 1950s, believe it or not, psychologists didn’t even discuss this issue of parental love and affection for the child. They thought it was psychologically damaging to show love for a child and too much touching and holding a child would scar it mentally and emotionally. Pediatricians told parents that touching children too much would expose them to germs and increase their chances of getting sick. Parenting advice from this era was based on these bogus, erroneous notions.

We now know that physical contact is not just a display of affection, it’s critical for neurological development, especially skin-to-skin contact. Bonding with baby is not just a silly sentimental motherhood thing, it’s something hardwired in our genes, it’s how we grow and develop as humans. Just as scheduled feedings leads to deprivation of biological needs, limited contact deprives babies of emotional needs.

Show Baby Who’s Boss

Yes, these are the exact words the show uses to describe this childrearing method. By the way, if the child actually objects to having her food limited, her human contact and comfort limited, or if she objects to sitting in a pram outside, alone for hours at a time, then the dogma of the King method says: too bad, baby. As much as the child cries, she will not get another feeding until morning time, will not be released from her stroller outside, or will not be cuddled more than the alloted ten minutes per day. Remember, we are trying to show them “who’s boss.”

There is something sick and twisted about thinking of parenting merely as an exercise in controlling another human being. If that really is someone’s cup of tea, I can think of a host of other, more appropriate jobs: like prison warden or CIA interrogator.

I almost feel sorry for the parents who implement these ideas. But then I think about their poor children who are deprived of adequate nutrition and comfort and I am filled with revulsion. Go live out your twisted delusions of grandeur somewhere else, people.

It’s rather sad how far we’ve gone as a society–is it now considered entertainment for us to watch helpless human beings treated this way? Shame on Channel 4, and shame on Huggies for sponsoring this show. I am anxiously awaiting its cancellation.


Coming soon inshaAllah, God willing… part 2: an Islamic perspective (when my son lets me get to it!)

Children are people too!

SubhanAllah, just as I was looking for some parenting inspiration (for my mental exercise called the Islamic Parenting Project), 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!