Ramadan and kids: The do's and don'ts of introducing fasting to children
Are you thinking of getting your child to fast this Ramadan? Unsure of how to go about it? Singaporean mummies share the do's and don'ts when getting your children to fast!
The month of Ramadan, also known as the fasting month is here. You are busy with preparations for fasting and the upcoming Hari Raya. This year though, is slightly different as you are thinking of getting your children to fast.
For those who do not know, the month of Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. During this month, from dawn to dusk, Muslims all around the world abstain from food, drink, smoking and sexual intercourse.
It is also a time when Muslims abstain from worldly pleasures and dedicate themselves to a more holy way of life. This is to commemorate the first revelation of the Qur’an (islamic Holy book) to the prophet Muhammad, according to Islamic belief.
While fasting is only obligatory after a child hits puberty, getting your children to start fasting even before the age of seven is a good way to help them gradually become consistent and to develop a love for it.
When getting your child to fastfor the first time, you may feel anxious or be unsure how to go about it. To make this process a little easier for you, we spoke to three mums of threes, to share some tips on the do’s and don’ts when getting your children to fast.
1. Explain the significance of Ramadan
Prior to getting your children to fast, take some time to explain to them the reason behind fasting. True to their nature, children are always curious and have never-ending questions about anything and everything.
Children also feel more motivated to do something when they understand why they are asked to do it. Norazela Rosli shares that in her family, they make it a point to explain to their children the significance of the Holy month of Ramadan. They make them understand why they have to fast.
Norazela adds that this knowledge is in addition to what her children learn in Madrasah (Islamic religious school).
Most Muslim parents in Singapore send their children to some sort of religious class or school. Although the children learn about fasting from their teachers, it is always a good idea for parents to reinforce the learning.
Never underestimate the power of understanding in a child. If you present to them the logic or reason behind something, they are more then likely to want to do it.
So remember, when getting your children to fast, keep talking to them and reminding them why they are doing it in the first place.
When their friends ask them why they fast, I’m sure you would beam in pride if they are able to offer some kind of rudimentary explanation about the whole idea as opposed to saying, I am fasting because my mummy asked me to!
2. Encourage and Motivate
When getting your children to fast, you should celebrate their little victories. This can come in the form of little incentives or rewards.
Faaizah Parwin shares that in an attempt to encourage her children to fast, she lets them have whatever they request to eat. For Iftar (the meal eaten after sunset, to break the fast) she usually prepares a spread of their favourite food.
She added with a laugh, “We even went to have Sahur (the meal consumed early in the morning, before fasting) at Macdonalds for my first child. I know it is probably the worst food to give them but I guess there is no harm in doing so once or twice”.
The whole idea was to motivate her son to fast. And it worked!
Another thing her children look forward to is heading out to break their fast. A trip to the iconic Hari Raya Bazaar in Geylang Serai and preparing for Hari Raya always work for her kids.
When her children complain that they are getting hungry, or it seems so long more before they can break their fast, Faaizah motivates them by directing their attention to the number of hours they have fasted for. “I get them to see that they have already fasted for so long and they only have a few hours to go.”
Norazela has a fun and interesting method to motivate her children. She uses a Ramadan progress chart to track their progress. Little things like stickers go a long way in motivating her children. It is not surprising that she would have such strategies at hand considering that she is a teacher!
Ramadan progress charts and calendars are widely available in Singapore. If your child attends lessons in a Madrasah, you can ask the teachers there for a copy. Otherwise, you can easily find it online.
Here’s a tip. Ramadan falls during the June holidays this year. If you are getting your children to fast, you can try making them design their own progress chart or calendar. They can customise it to their preferences. This will keep them busy and help them to stop counting the hours left to break their fast!
Mummies, don’t forget they are kids after all. If you are worried that rewards and extrinsic motivation may shift the focus from the reasons behind fasting, remind yourself that they are really young. Children love to see their efforts appreciated and celebrated.
3. Keep them occupied
If you are struggling with getting your children to fastfor the entire day, remember that time flies when they are occupied. You can find ways to make fasting enjoyable for the little ones.
Faaizah has a range of activities to keep her children occupied. When her children attend school, they are tired and usually nap after school and wake up shortly before it is time to break fast.
If fasting falls during the school holidays, like this year, she keeps them busy with craft work and other hands-on activities.
Singaporean mummies love to bake Raya goodies such as cakes and cookies. Faaizah gets her children actively involved in this baking process. Otherwise, “Worst comes to worst, I get them to watch some videos or movies.”
Well of course. Keeping children entertained is a challenge. Keeping hungry children who are watching the clock is another level of challenge altogether!
Norazela believes that when getting your children to fast, you should make it enjoyable for them. She suggests doing some light activities. “Fasting does not mean being sedentary, or being a couch potato the whole day.”
Norazela also gets her kids engaged in making Hari Raya goodies. She keeps them occupied by getting them to do simple household chores or taking them to the library.
4. Eat right
An important aspect of getting your children to fastis getting them to eat right. Siti Khalilah, whose daughter started fasting at six, advises to drink water at room temperature during the pre-dawn meal. She explains that drinking cold water causes you to feel thirsty later in the day.
Siti stresses the importance of eating nutritious food during Sahur. This is to fuel the body to get through the day. Her family’s practice is to eat food that is loaded with fibre and to take in less carbohydrates.
Siti reminds her daughter never to over-eat right after breaking fast. Her family breaks their fast with light food, dates and some hot tea. Upon completing their prayers, they proceed to have a proper meal.
“Nothing oily, so the stomach won’t feel the surprise of the sudden intake of food” advises Siti.
Mums, you know your kids best. When getting your children to fast, plan their meals ahead and ensure that you strike a balance between wise food choices and food that they enjoy.
5. Expose to different aspects
Norazela explains that the month of Ramadan is not only about fasting. When getting your children to fast, you should also talk to them about the other aspects of Ramadan. The obligatory five times a day prayers as well as Terawih, the night prayers, are things you can stress to them.
Ramadan is also a perfect opportunity to inculcate values in children. Along with getting your children to fast, you can talk to them about charity and benevolence. If time permits, get them involved in visiting an orphanage. You may even wish to ask them to donate some of their pocket money.
1.Do not force it upon them
Many parents first introduce their children to fasting anywhere between the age of four to six. However, it is ubiquitously agreed that when getting your children to fast, you should not force it upon them.
If they do not seem ready for it, or if they try but appear to be struggling, take the cue from them and go easy. After all, they are still really young. Do remember that every child is different.
Faaizah shares that while her first child was eager to try fasting when he was in Kindergarten 1, the same did not apply for her third child. He seemed reluctant, so she did not force him. This year, she hopes to try again and see if he takes well to it.
Norazela mentions that both her children started at a different pace. Her second child started earlier and she attributes this to him being motivated by his elder sister. He started fasting at the age of four, when he was just in Nursery 2!
Norazela suggests taking it easy and introducing fasting progressively. She started her son off by fasting for half a day, then gradually progressing to three quarters of a day and finally for the entire duration of the fast. When he reached the first year of kindergarten, her son was able to fast from dawn to dusk, for the entire month, without any pressure.
So mummies, when getting your children to fast, do be mindful of how young they are. Pay close attention to them when they are fasting, especially if they are trying it out for the first time. If they appear dehydrated, or overly fatigued, you might wish to consider asking them to break their fast.
Or you can try Norazela’s progressive approach and start off with half a day. In fact, many parents use this approach.
Again, when getting your children to fast, remember that every child is different. Fasting is not a competition or a time to show off whose child started fasting first. This takes away the very essence of the holy month.
While it is not wrong to point out other children as examples to your own, never ever undermine’s your child’s efforts. Don’t make them feel any less if they are unable to complete their fast. They are little people and as such, they should take little steps.
Even within the family, in getting your children to fast, you may be temped to compare and make fasting a competition among the siblings. Please avoid doing this as it may make your child feel miserable or lousy if they are unable fast when their siblings were able to.
3. Vigorous activity
Siti shares that when getting your children to fast, you should let them continue doing what they usually do. She lets her daughter remain active to avoid lethargy and thinking about food. Having said that, she strongly advises against any form of vigorous activity like running.
Mums, this may be a bit tricky. What happens if your child is in the school team and needs to train? What if the fasting month falls during their competition season?
There is no hard and fast rule when it comes to this. It is also subject to your child’s health. Should your child decide to continue with sports, it is of paramount importance that they do not end up dehydrated.
There you go, a comprehensive list of Do’s and Don’ts that pretty much double up as a comprehensive guide to getting your children to fast!
Remember mums, take it easy and be patient with them. Along with this article, all of us here at The Asian Parent wish you and your family a happy and enjoyable Ramadan!
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