Like some mommies out there, ever since my baby turned ‘the big 7’, I’ve struggled on how to encourage him to pray consistently. I say the big 7 as a joke, because we all know they’re not so grown-up, actually quite far from it. However, we are well aware that this is the age we need to get a bit serious and encourage our kids to begin good, wholesome habits. And what better habit is there than our five daily prayers. Here are some things to think about when encouraging this wonderful habit.
1. Make prayer a priority for yourself first
When I think back to my childhood of one sweet memory which has connected me to prayer today, it is seeing my dad sitting peacefully in prayer every morning and every evening. I would stand there in awe, watching him from a distance, absorbing the peace and enjoying the beauty, SubhanAllah.
No matter where you are, if you’re outside or on the road, when you realize its prayer time, pull over and let your kids see you keep your prayer. Of course, choose a spot where you feel comfortable and safe, but don’t demand that your child pray. Focus on yourself. Rush to pray and speak aloud saying something like, “SubhanAllah, I need to pray asap, Allah is waiting for me!”
What does this display to your child?
You’re showing them your desire to please Allah (swt), your need to thank your Lord, your passion to keep a promise to perform an obligatory act, and your deep commitment to connect with the Creator, who is in charge of everything! Your willingness to stop what you are doing in order to pray, is totally crucial, especially when little wondering eyes are watching. So go on, walk the walk, and ease-up on, talking the talk. There’s much wisdom in this.
2. Be happy and display warmth when reminding your child to pray
In the morning, when you wake up for fajr, give yourself enough time to pray slowly and recite or listen to the Quran for a good amount of time, enough time for it to comfort your heart and soul. It’s different for everyone. I personally prefer reciting certain surahs of the Quran. For an idea on what starts my morning right, please refer to my article, 5 Ways to Naturally Start Your Day Right
Once you’ve received your dose of energy, only then are you in the right frame of mind to remind your child of their obligation to pray fajr. How do you wake them up? Definitely not by yelling or banging on their door with a demanding tone. In my home, our rule is ‘no locking bedroom doors’, but we’ve formed a habit of knocking and waiting for permission before entering a room, even if the door is wide open. It’s from a hadith of our blessed Prophet (pbuh). The following Hadith is reported by Abu Musa Al-Ash’ari who says:
“I sought permission to see Umar and I did not have permission after three times. Hence, I left. He called me and said: ‘Abdullah, have you found it hard to wait at my door? You better know that people may find it hard to wait at your door.’ I said: ‘No. I have sought permission three times and I did not obtain it; so I returned, as we have been ordered to do so.’ He said: ‘Whom have you heard this.’ I said: ‘From the Prophet'”.
I knock on their door gently and say, “Assalamu alaikum my sweethearts. Rise and shine, it’s fajr time!” Then I sit at the end of their bed, and recite in my most comforting voice, a surah which I love. If it’s short, I just keep repeating it a few times, slowly allowing it to penetrate deep into my inner soul. It helps when I close my eyes. Alternatively, I will play the Quran on my phone, or read duas from a book. You can also use this time to teach your kids and yourself, the dua that is recited upon rising from sleep.
“All praise is for Allah who gave us life after having taken it from us and unto Him is the Resurrection.”
In either case, I’m using the beautiful words of Allah (swt), to carry my children from their phase of slumber to wakefulness. There are immense blessings in these words, which can bring ease to any difficult situation, especially a hard sleep. Try it, you’ll be quite surprised. My children appreciate this gentle nudge so much, that they peek their little heads from under their covers within minutes and say, “Asalamu-alaikum mommy! I’m awake, I’m awake!”, and willingly go on to their morning routine. No yelling, no pulling, and no stressful start for anyone – only good memories!
3. Draw a beautiful picture of prayer
Children love to hear a story which will forever paint a lovely picture in their mind. We should use stories as an alternative in teaching them something important, so that it can have a deep and meaningful impact on their lives. The Prophet Yaqub (a.s), used to tell his son Yusuf (a.s), stories in the most beautiful description. Many of us have not been given this gift by our parents. Instead, we have been told that we must pray, and if we don’t, we will be punished. Let’s avoid connecting prayer with punishment when addressing it with our children. Instead, describe to them the immense Love that Allah(swt) has for them. The love and beauty that can be found in prayer. Begin with explaining to your child what prayer means to you. When I spoke to my children I said,
“There are five daily prayers, because during the day we are so wrapped up with routine, running from here and there, we need to have breaks, catch our breath and think about what we have been doing. These little breaks (prayer time) are for us to re-energize. We speak to our Lord in His beautiful blessed words (prayer), then we make dhikr (SubhanAllah 33x, Alhumdulillah 33x and Allahu-akbar 34x) to praise and thank Him for all that He has given us. And in the end, we are given a wonderful opportunity to speak to Him in our own words (dua). We have this private time to tell Him how we feel, our troubles and our joys. What we need, our dreams and our hopes. And anything else that’s in our hearts and in our minds. When we pour our thoughts to Him, we feel better and we feel loved, because He loves us even more than our mother! So my dear, sweet children, no matter where you are, or what you are doing, always, always make time to pray. Allah (swt) loves you very much, and waits for the personal appointments you have with Him.”
How many prayers and at what age?
I’m sure we’ve all struggled with this idea. We listen to a lecture, or read about the fiqh rulings on prayer, and wonder, ‘What should I expect from my child or young adult?’ We’ve gone as far as telling our 7, 8 or 9-year-old, that they must pray 5 times a day or else! I have done it, and later felt terrible about it because the outcome was not positive, and my approach was all wrong. Let’s first look at what our goals and challenges are:
- We want our child to form a habit of praying.
- We want our child to love to speak to their Lord.
- We want to implement in our child a desire to pray.
- We want our child to understand that it’s an obligation and not a choice.
- Some of us have a few years of missed prayers, and find it a struggle to make it up, we don’t want our child to go through this.
- We don’t want our child to hate the idea of prayer or to attribute it to something negative.
- We don’t want our child to lie about praying or say they prayed but did not perform the action.
Think about yourself and your ups and downs during the year, and be very honest with yourself. Throughout the 12 months, are you super-duper punctual and focused in every single prayer? Or are you an ordinary person struggling, but slowly improving by the years. You have your good days and your slip-ups. So how can we expect our children to be perfect? Our Merciful Lord knows that we are human and we will make mistakes. Allah (swt) Loves to forgive us. He (swt) has set up a designated special time to ask for forgiveness, every single night after Isha. Let us focus on what is important when it comes to prayer, i.e. to improve slowly, but consistently throughout our life.
4. Be gentle and patient when it comes to prayer
I know there are fiqh rules and obligations to prayer which we must follow. I also know that habits take long to form. Teaching your kids to pray at an early age is a great idea. The best way to implement a rule or to follow a law, is to be strict on yourself and patient and forgiving on others around you. When it’s time to pray,
- Remind your child in a pleasant way.
- Ask your son if he’d like to perform the adhan and call everyone to prayer.
- Encourage your children to pray in jammah (congregation) with one another to get more reward.
- Perform your prayer in front of your children, whether they join in or not. (I am able to pray Fajr and Isha privately in a quiet room since my kids are usually asleep, but I make it a priority to pray my 3 other prayers in front of them. It’s not to show-off, but to display the action as a gentle reminder).
- Then leave it at that.
5. If your child prays, praise and make dua for them out loud
A few things I say to my kids when they pray are,
- “MashaAllah, may Allah(swt) reward you. Your look so beautiful when you pray. May Allah(swt) fill you face with noor (light) ameen.”
- “SubhanAllah, did you all see how lovely she performed her prayer, may Allah (swt) always protect and guide you my sweet, ameen.”
- “Alhumdulillah, you make me so happy when you do things that are pleasing to Allah (swt). May He always guide you to do that which is pleasing to Him, ameen.”
Kissing or hugging your child, is another wonderful way to show your love and approval of them. A few years ago, I was very strict when it came to implementing prayer on my child. I would remind him over and over, and pick on what he did incorrectly when it came to the steps of prayer. I thought this was my duty, but I quickly realized it was doing more harm. So I stopped when I realized my error. It’s never too late to change your way and attitude. Now I follow these 5 steps, and over time, I have seen a change in how my son sees prayer, Alhumdulillah! Here is an example.
The other day, we were on our way to a swimming class for my kids, and were short on time. I had performed my prayer, but they hadn’t. While driving to their class, I asked them if they had prayed, and one of my kids exclaimed, “Oh mommy, I forgot”! My oldest child chimed in and said, “You know what? We can pray in the dressing room after swim class when we take a shower, we will be clean and ready.” I smiled and said, “MashaAllah! Thank you Abdullah, that’s a great idea!”
Alhumdulillah I thought, hand on my heart and feeling so good, patience, time and gentleness really do pay off! Oh, Allah (swt) please give us the patience to guide our children on the road which is most pleasing to you, ameen!
If you would like to get some ideas on how to teach your kids salaah please refer to my article,