The blessed month of Ramadan is the best month to establish, review, replenish, and fortify healthy habits. In the example of our Prophet Muhammad‘s (SAW) life, we observe that he reviewed the entire Qur’an with Hazrat Jibra’eel (AS) in the month of Ramadan. We also find numerous ayaat in the Qur’an and sahih hadith about the reward being exponentially multiplied for good deeds in this month. It is indeed an opportunity to make extra efforts in instructing our children and helping them to build a good character.
Establishing a healthy habit during the month of Ramadan is most effective when we follow the six steps of conceptual learning and interface that process with the practice and objectives of fasting
Although healthy habits can be developed and fortified as a lifelong discipline, the month of Ramadan is especially an opportune time to cultivate and nurture a healthy habit as we are granted a lot of barakah during this month. Certain habits such as regularity in salah, punctuality with work or school, regular recitation of the Qur’an, improved sleep-wake cycles, time management, and community service are easier to implement and practice during this month. With Ramadan coinciding with the summer vacation from school, it is only wise that we spend this “extra time” in helping our kids develop healthy habits.
Establishing a healthy habit during the month of Ramadan is most effective when we follow the six steps of conceptual learning and interface that process with the practice and objectives of fasting. The six steps are goal-setting, role-modeling, guided practice, independent practice, assessment, and review. Below is an explanation of each step with examples of how to integrate it with the lessons that we derive from the Qur’an and sunnah about the month of Ramadan and the benefits and blessings of fasting, and so making it more meaningful for our children.
Goal-setting can be done before the month of Ramadan begins, thus emphasizing the importance of preparation and organizational skills. To establish a goal, the best way is to ask the child what goal he/she would like to work on and why he/she feels the need to acquire this habit. In the example of our Prophet Muhammad (SAW), we learn that his way of answering many questions was by posing a question, thus initiating a thread of critical thinking. Then encourage the child to ponder over the benefits of acquiring the new habit. Getting them to write down their goal, the benefits, and details of an action plan is always a good idea so that the goals can be reviewed and modified during the course of practice. The best time for this dialogue is when the child has displayed a positive behavior and the parent expresses approval and appreciation of the good behavior. The dialogue then serves as a reinforcement, thus building on their good behavior. Asking the child to choose a goal to work on shifts responsibility to the child and allows him or her to own the intention and the effort, which children love. Ramadan is a favorable month to begin as we know that Allah (SWT) chose this month to reveal the code of life. Tying the short-term goals established with your child with the ultimate goal of Ramadan, and doing so in a positive and encouraging way, definitely enhances and motivates the child to set and work toward his/her goal. However, in order to make the dialogue effective, it must be kept short with the parent listening most of the time, simply leading and facilitating the child to take initiative.
Having set the goal, it is most important to provide positive role-modeling by the parents. If, for example, the habit chosen by the child is regularity in fajr salah, then the parents need to set the best example. With the barakah of the blessed month of Ramadan, we have a lot of time during the day to get chores done, obligations fulfilled, and even time to rest. Utilize this time with your child by demonstrating a healthy habit. Managing your time effectively, as a parent, by following a well-planned routine definitely proves to be a good example of role-modeling to the child. Activities that demonstrate time management and structured work schedules do wonders as tools for teaching and role-modeling.
Remember that every child is a unique individual and so the pace at which they learn will vary, even among siblings. Encourage them to help each other attain their goals through physical activities and games that incorporate team work and sharing, thus tying one of the purposes of fasting with their goals, as this is also the month of earning maximum reward for the smallest good deeds. At this stage, the child will benefit from being reminded, if necessary, to stay on track. Encourage them to also maintain a diary/log of the challenges they encounter in trying to practice the habit. This will help them reflect on their behavior with respect to the habit and modify the action plan and address any shortcomings.
This is the stage during which the child practices the habit without being reminded; consistent recognition and reward is still needed from the parents. A beneficial way to strengthen this phase is to encourage the children to conduct story-telling sessions and recitation competitions with their peers where the adults are the audience and not the judges. Choose specific parables from the Qur’an and examples from the sunnah on the topic of, or relevant to, Ramadan and/or their chosen goals, and make it an enjoyable learning session for the kids.
The best time in Ramadan to assess the children is during the last ten days as we know the reward is exponentially multiplied. This can be a simple conversation with the child during which he/she expresses their own self-assessment as to how they did in practicing the new habit. The parent then can share with the child their assessment. If the child has fallen short, the parent can frame this in a positive way, explaining that there is always opportunity to improve. If the child has done well, the parent can reward the child with praise for their achievement. The child can also be told that given their increased strength and maturity of character, they can take on some additional responsibility or chore within the household. This too should be framed in positive terms. This builds the child’s self-esteem, thus encouraging him/her to practice the new habit consistently.
Though the habit being established should be reviewed at each of the above mentioned stages and even between the stages, it is important to have a conclusive review. The best day would be the day of Eid. The culmination of the month of Ramadan in Eid implies a feeling of fulfillment of one’s duty as well as gratitude toward Allah (SWT) for enabling us to do so. Likewise, a thorough review of the six stages and the challenges faced during the stages is essential after a thirty day practice schedule, in determining the next step. Encouraging remarks and actions by adults, even if the child has not reached the desired goal, must be incorporated to help the child consistently practice the habit.
To sum up, the essence of the whole exercise is to make the connection between the habits or actions that we are encouraging in the child and the teachings of the Qur’an and sunnah. The absence of this connection is what causes children to deviate and be unsure and confused. To build a strong connection, it is important in the different stages of learning, to incorporate age and theme appropriate activities in order to yield effective results.