Coping with an Ill-Tempered Child
- Sheikh Salman al-Oadah
It never ceases to amaze me how many people complain about their children’s bad tempers and have not the faintest idea what to do when their children get angry.
We are often surprised and hurt by the things we hear our children say in anger, their hands folded across their chests, words like: “I hate you!” and
“I don’t want you!” and “I don’t love you anymore!”
Children say such things when they are angry, and parents are often at a loss to respond with anything other than harsh words, curses, and a good smack. Most parents have no better remedy to administer and justify themselves by saying that they are disciplining their children for their bad manners.
In truth, cursing and hitting the child is nothing more than a hasty reaction from the parents dressed up in the guise of “discipline”.
There are many things that the parents need to take into consideration in order to handle the situation correctly and remedy their children’s tempers:
* When we consider the guidance of the Prophet (peace be upon him), we observe that he never once struck his wife or servant. I am not merely discussing the question of “to hit or not to hit”. What I am saying is that hitting often exacerbates the problem far more than it remedies it.
* Many parents are confused about what they should do first when their child gets angry – should they focus on the cause of the anger or on the anger itself?
In my personal estimation, it seems that seeking a solution for the cause of the anger is better than trying to remedy the anger itself. Eliminating the cause of a problem is invariably a solution to the problem.
* If we as adults fail to exhibit any self-restraint when we are angry, how can we expect our children to do so?
It is important for us to raise our children to know how to stay calm and collected and deal with things in a rational manner. If we are neglectful in this, then we will have no recourse but to calm the child down when he gets angry and then try to find out how to deal with the cause of his anger.
There is an old Arab saying that goes: “You cannot give what you do not have.” This is true. If the parent has a bad temper and is unable to control himself when he gets angry, how can he fault his child for the same?
The parent is the role model.
The child does what he sees his parents doing.
* Why should we not discuss the matter with our children when they get angry? Isn’t it better to use such a tone than it is to cry and shout, which only causes the child even more distress? There is no problem with using a conversational tone in discussing matters with our children.
In the Quran, we see that the Lord of All the Worlds uses such a tone with his angels and His Prophets. We see the Prophet Solomon (peace be upon him) using such a tone even when he speaks to a bird. Is not it more appropriate for us to do so with our children who are our own flesh and blood?
Many parents address their children in a demeaning, condescending tone, simply because their children are small and their young minds have not matured. The parents see that the time to show respect has not yet arrived. I see this as a big mistake, though one that is very common.
If we look to the Prophet (peace be upon him) for guidance, we see that he behaved very respectfully towards children.
* We need to exercise a lot of patience when dealing with children.
A child is naturally eager and impressionable, with an unlimited imagination. It is wrong to expect him to behave like an adult when he has yet to learn to distinguish between what is beneficial and what is harmful.
This explains to us the reason why the Prophet (peace be upon him) descended from the pulpit to meet his grandchildren al-Hasan and al-Husayn, even though many prominent Companions were standing before him.
* It is a serious mistake for our children to feel unloved by his parents. This is the case even when the child is being punished.
The feeling of love should be ever-present, even when administering bitter medicine. This is especially true since our children have hold of our hearts, and in spite of their tender years, they have an influence over us.
* We need to accustom our children to communicating their feelings to us, to express themselves properly when they are angry instead of crying and shouting.
When we come to know the cause of the anger, we need to speak to our children on their own level and explain matters to them in a way that they can understand. We cannot deal with them as if they were adults like ourselves, we must deal with them on their own level, no matter how trivial their problems may seem to us.
We can think about how a little girl took the Prophet’s hand and he allowed her to lead him around wherever she wanted to go.
A child needs to feel that he lives in an environment of controlled freedom. He should not live in an atmosphere of constant control and domination so that he represses his feelings and his identity.
* In one survey, it was determined that 70% of the children living in the Gulf region suffer from psychological disorders of one kind or another.
We find ourselves between two opposite extremes – that of going overboard in controlling and disciplining our children and that of utter laxity. What is needed is a just balance.
I know some very respectable people who insist on pining over every detail when it comes to “raising” their children, so much so that the child can scarcely breathe without being taken to account for it. When the father comes to me with his son in tow, the boy’s face is ashen and he is visibly disturbed. This is because the child is not allowed to act in any way other than according to his father’s mindset, which is an impossible burden for the mind of a small child.
* We must teach our children to seek means to control their anger.
We might instruct them to perform ablutions or to sit down if they are standing or to take hold of a book or some other object. If he does so and his anger subsides, then he should be commended and rewarded for keeping his anger under control. Do not withhold the praise when your child keeps himself calm. Let him know with your words and gestures that you recognize his achievement. Give him a little token of appreciation, even just the pen in your shirt pocket.
* Allow the child to role-play. Be the angry one and let your child try to calm you down. Let his try whatever means he feels are appropriate.
* It is better for a child to say “I feel angry because of this or that” than it is for him to scream and shout.
* The dictatorial approach is not always the right one. We need to avoid saying things like “Shut up!” “Get out of my sight!” “If I get my hands on you, I am going to break your head!” and “Don’t use that impudent tone with me!”
At times, might we rather say: “Dear, I am your father (or mother, as the case may be) and I love you. I feel it when you are angry, so do not distress me so.” What is important is for the child to empathize with your feelings. The child today will be an adult tomorrow, and if we do not develop such an empathy with our children when they are young, we may regret it down the road.
* We should take to heart the example of the Prophet (peace be upon him). Anas said about him: “I swear by Allah. I have never seen anyone show more mercy to his family that Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him).”
[Sahih Muslim (2316)]
The Prophet (peace be upon him) loved children. He wept when his little son Ibrâhîm died.
Whenever a child was born, they would bring the child to the Prophet (peace be upon him) and he would offer supplications for the child. Sometimes he would change a child’s name to a better one. He used to play with children and humor them.
When al-Hasan, the Prophet’s grandson came running into the Prophet’s room and jumped down in front of him, the Prophet (peace be upon him) embraced him and kissed him and said: “O Allah! Love him and love those who love him.”
[Sahih al-Bukhârî (2122) and Sahih Muslim (2421)]
He would go to the mosque, carrying either al-Hasan or al-Husayn on his shoulder. Once he prayed his prayers while carrying Umamah bint Zaynab in his arms. He consoled a small child whose pet bird had died. He would even seek the permission of a child sitting to his right to allow him to offer a drink first to some elders on his left. When the child refused to waive his right, the Prophet (peace be upon him) served the child first. We see where `Amr b. Salamah was appointed to lead the prayers for his people though he was only six years old, simply because he was the most knowledgeable among them of the Qur’ân.
Examples like these abound, and when we regard them, the greatness of the Prophet’s character becomes all the more evident to us. We realize that the best schools of education and childrearing in the East and West are in need of the light of our Prophet’s example.