By Mohammad Al Dweesh
Reprinted from Islamicedu.com
Table of Contents:
The Important Role of Mothers in Child Education:
1. The Family Influence in Education.
2. The Child is Influenced by His Mother's Condition at Pregnancy.
3. A Mother's Role in Early Childhood.
4. A Mother's Role with Her Daughters.
5. A Mother Knows the Private Details in the Life of her Children.
Education Suggestions for Mothers:
1. Feeling the Importance of Education.
2. Having Discipline in the House.
3. Acquiring Additional Experience in Educatiion.
4. Catering for the Child's Needs.
5. Stressing the Harmony between Husband and Wife.
6. Dealing with the Mistakes of Children.
7. Suggested Methods of Behaviour Cultivation or Correction.
Praise be to Allah: we praise Him, seek His help, ask for His forgiveness, and repent to Him. We seek His protection from our own evil and wrongdoing. A person who is well-guided by Allah cannot be misled by anyone, and whoever Allah leaves in error cannot be guided by anyone. I testify that there is no deity but Allah, alone, with no partner, and I testify that Muhammad is His worshipper and messenger.
This is not the time or place for a discussion of the importance of education and the role it plays in building and safeguarding societies. Everybody, regardless of his school of thought and educational philosophy, knows that education is a necessary and urgent requirement. All societies stress education, pay special attention to it, and make studies in it. If one looks at the shelves of libraries and bookstores, he finds more Western books on education than books published in Muslim societies, which shows that education is a concern and requisite for all, regardless of their educational approaches and priorities.
The Important Role of Mothers in Child Education
A mother has a significant, basic role in education. This is evident in the following points:
1- The Family Influence in Education
The family is the first tier in the process of social upbringing. It is the family that instills in the child the standards by which he judges everything that he later receives from all social institutions. When he goes to school, his attitude towards his teacher is formed on the basis of the education he has received at home. His selection of friends at school is also based on the way he was raised by his family. He evaluates everything he hears and sees and every situation he finds himself in or he witnesses through what his family has instilled in him. That is the role of the family in education, a very important and serious role.
2- The Child Is Influenced by His Mother's Condition at Pregnancy
The mother dominates a stage of the child's life all by herself, with nobody else sharing her role, and this stage, the pregnancy, has an influence on education which some people might not be aware of. An embryo in its mother's womb is influenced by several things.
One of these things is nourishment. The type of food an embryo receives from its mother affects it in various ways. It is also influenced by any illness or indisposition of the mother during pregnancy. If a mother takes drugs while she is pregnant, the embryo is affected, and if the mother is an addict, he might become an addict later in his life. The same thing is true of smoking, and this is why in Western societies, a smoking woman is advised to quit or cut down on smoking during pregnancy, to spare the embryo the effect of nicotine. Other things that have an effect on the embryo are medications, which is the reason why a doctor asks a woman whether she is pregnant or not when he wants to prescribe a medicine for her.
Another influence, which the two parents may not realize, is the emotional condition of the mother. A baby might scream a lot in early childhood, or he might easily get scared, and in both cases, this may be due to the impact of his mother's emotional condition during pregnancy. When the mother gets too emotional, the hormones which she produces and which the child receives are affected. If such an emotional state goes on for a long time, the effect extends to the embryo's psychological, emotional, and physical constitution. That is why a husband should do his best to make the atmosphere favorable at home, and a mother should do her best to avoid anything that would excite her.
The attitude of the mother towards her pregnancy and her embryo is another important factor. When she is happy and cheerful at being pregnant, her mood will certainly have an effect on the embryo, the same way as when she is unhappy about her pregnancy. This is why Allah, the Most Glorious and Sublime, directs people to correct their attitudes towards male and female children. He says:
To Allah belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth. He creates what He wills (and plans). He bestows (children) male or female according to His Will (and Plan); Or He bestows both males and females, and He leaves barren whom He will: for He is full of Knowledge and Power. (Surah 42: 49-50).
He, the Most Glorious and Sublime, has His Will and His Judgment, and what He chooses has always a justification and a rationale. So a wife and her husband should always feel satisfied with what Allah gives them and should know that it is for their own good. They should be content whether a boy or a girl is born to them. If a woman loses this feeling of satisfaction, as when medical examination shows the sex of the embryo in her womb and it turns out to be the opposite of what she wises for, her attitude and feeling will certainly affect the embryo. This is of course not a medical clinic and I am not giving medical advice to a pregnant mother and telling her about consequences of her attitude. What I aim at is to make the point that the role of a woman starts during pregnancy, and that at that stage, she is the only influence on the child.
3- A Mother's Role in Early Childhood
Early childhood is a very important stage in the raising of a child, and the role of the mother at that stage is greater than that of anybody else. While the baby is still nursing, she has the greatest contact with it. For a great purpose that Allah has willed, the only nourishment of the baby at this stage is by nursing from its mother. This does not only have a medical effect on the health of the child, but also has psychological effects, the most important of which is making the baby enjoy the tenderness and closeness that it needs. Doctors always advise mothers to nurse their babies themselves, and if for one reason or another a mother does not, she is advised to take care of it and keep it close to her all the time.
One can therefore realize how serious a mistake a mother makes when she leaves her baby at this stage to a governess or a maid who takes complete charge of it: cleaning it, taking care of its clothes, preparing its food, and when the baby takes artificial milk, preparing the bottles for it. In such a situation, a baby misses a lot of the psychological care it needs.
If a mother has the misfortune of having a maid - and it is always better to do without them - she, i.e. the mother, should take care of the baby herself in the early stages of its life. She can leave matters of cooking, house cleaning, and similar chores to the maid, because a baby will not receive as much tenderness and care from a maid as from its own mother. What the baby is exposed to at this stage has a great future psychological effect and influences the attitude of the baby in the future towards various things. This is particularly important, because many governesses and maids in the Islamic world are non-Muslim, and even Muslim ones are often non-religious. The effect of such a situation is not hard to guess and it would take long to discuss this subject in detail, so I will limit myself to this passing remark.
The point is that a mother deals with her baby in early childhood more than the father does. The baby acquires many habits and standards at this age and also learns some modes of behavior which will be hard to change in the future. This is what makes the mother's role so important; it is the gate of this precarious stage in the child's life. There are some people, for example, who are devout and upright, but because they have not been raised in their childhood to strict moral and behavioral standards, they are characterized with some roughness in manners and lack of discipline.
4- A Mother's Role with Her Daughters
If a mother is the closest person to children in general in their early childhoods, this closeness is greater and continues longer in the case of daughters. Probably some of the problems we have today with girls are due to the diminished educational role of mothers. A girl goes through adolescence, is exposed to temptations, and has to cope with her desires. The society she lives in encourages immorality, and the girl has an emotional vacuum, and might only find satisfaction and gratification in unholy environments. The mother meanwhile is too busy with her own affairs, or with her neighbors and friends. The girl lives in one world, her mother in another.
It is very necessary for the mother to live with her daughters and be close to them. A girl is more likely to be open with her mother than with her father. It is necessary for the mother to fill the emotional void her daughters suffer from.
The emotional void a girl feels is usually greater in a house with a maid. The maid takes care of the household chores, and the family decides that their daughter should apply herself to her studies, which take a lot of her time. But when school duties are over, the girl is left with a lot of leisure time. How does she spend it? Reading? We do not usually cultivate in our children the habit of reading.
As already mentioned, there is a great gap between mothers and daughters. A girl feels that her interests, her inclinations, and her way of thinking are not acceptable to her mother. She feels a cultural gap between her and her mother, and finds her satisfaction perhaps in a magazine that covers fashion and home-decoration, discusses love and emotions, and tells a woman how to win the admiration of others. Such topics arouse certain desires in the girl. Or perhaps she gets interested in video films, or in telephone conversations with young men. Even if none of these things are available to her, she may learn things from her mates at school.
5- A Mother Knows the Private Details in the Lives of Her Children
A mother takes care of the clothes of her children and the furniture of the house, as well as intimate details that concern her children. Thus she is more likely to discover problems that her children suffer from than their father, particularly in these days, in which a father is usually too busy for his children. The mother, therefore, is more aware of the affairs of her children than her husband.
All the above factors emphasize the role a mother has in education. A mother represents one half of the household, and a father can by no means meet the full responsibility of raising his children. Nor can the school alone have the full responsibility. The combined efforts of all concerned parties should work in harmony towards the same end.
In reality, however, the values upheld at school are sometimes undermined at home, and the values a child learns at home are contradicted by what he comes across in the street. The child has then to cope with contradicting standards. Our point, however, is that the household itself should work in harmony and as one, complementary unit.
But I cannot this evening fully cover, in the limited time I have, what role a mother is supposed to play in education. I can only offer a number of notes.
Educational Suggestions for Mothers
Whatever I say, I cannot in only one hour speak in any detail of a mother's role in education. Nor can I in one hour prepare a mother to be a good educator. Therefore, I think that the best I can do in relation to the second subject, preparing a mother for her educational role, is to offer some suggestions that I have outlined, in the hope of improving the role played by mothers. They include the following.
1- Feeling the Importance of Education
The starting point is for the mother to feel how serious and important education is, and how important the role she plays is. She should feel that the future of her sons and daughters is in large part her responsibility. But let me point out that when I speak about education I mean it in a very broad sense, rather than in the limited sense of orders, warnings, and punishment, which is how some people think of education.
Education is much more extensive in meaning. It means the upbringing of a child and the development of all aspects of his or her character: the devotional, physical, psychological, and mental. It is important for the child to have an integrated personality, and both parents should feel that they have an important role in achieving this.
When it comes to devotional education, again many people think of it as no more than a set of injunctions, prohibitions, and penalties. It is much more than that. There is a whole lot of difference between a parent who punishes his child for not praying and a parent who teaches his child to love to pray. There is a similar difference between a parent who punishes his child for using a vulgar or obscene word, and a parent who teaches his child to abhor such a language and to be refined in his speech. That is what I mean when I speak of proper education, and everybody, mothers in particular, should understand education in this broad sense.
2- Having Discipline in the House
An important aspect of education, which is a joint responsibility of both parents (although I want to stress the mother's role), is to make sure that there is discipline in the household, for that is one of way of making children accustomed to the desired kind of behavior.
We are disorganized people. We do not have much discipline in our appointments, life at home, and dealing with others. This kind of behavior has affected the way we think, so now we are even disorganized in our thinking.
We need to teach our children to be organized with their belongings and in their rooms, to have regular meal hours, to be disciplined when there are guests in the house. They should know who may sit with the guests and who may not, and how guests are to be received and greeted.
3- Acquiring Additional Experience in Education
When a mother is aware of the importance of education, one of the things she can do is to try to improve her educational experience. There are several ways of doing this, such as the following:
Reading - It is very helpful for the mother to read books on education. Part of her time should be devoted to acquiring and reading such books. It does not make much sense for a mother to be more concerned with cook books than education books.
Let us be frank and ask ourselves how much reading in education we actually do, and how much the proportion of that type of reading is when compared to our general reading. When we answer these questions truthfully, we can realize how important education is to us and to what extent we are educated in the field of education.
Taking Advantage of Family Gatherings - We do that when we discuss educational matters at such gatherings. A mother benefits from the views and experience of other mothers. The type of talk we usually have, when everybody complains about how naughty and troublesome children are, is idle and has no benefit. It is a kind of self-deception by which we try to convince ourselves that the problem lies with our children and not with us.
We should be frank with ourselves and admit our own mistakes. If our children do have problems, this is due to the way we raise them. They are raised by us and not by somebody else. The failure in their discipline is our failure, not theirs.
Learning from Experience - The thing that enhances educational experience best is learning from the situations one goes through and from one's mistakes. If a mother makes some mistakes with her first child, she should learn to avoid them with he second. If she makes new mistakes with the second, she avoids them with the third. Thus she feels that the more she deals with children, the more experienced and refined she gets.
4- Catering to the Child's Needs
A child has many needs, some of which can be mentioned here.
The Need for Direct Attention
A child needs to be the focus of the attention of those around him, particularly his parents. This is a need that the child has from infancy. He smiles and laughs, for example, just to draw attention, and he expects some feedback.
One form of direct attention is taking care of the child's food and drink needs. When the child wakes his mother up to give him something to eat or to drink, she should refrain from showing displeasure or being in a bad mood, not to mention rebuking the child and telling him he is misbehaving. What can help the mother is to get her child used to a particular schedule and to prepare food for him, breakfast in particular, before she sleeps.
One of the worst forms of neglecting the food and drink needs of children is what some women do when they fast; they close the doors of their rooms, sleep most of the day, and scold their children when they ask for something to eat or to drink.
Another form of good attention is to listen well to the child. He may want to tell a story or to ask questions, and he expects his parents to listen to him. The parents can give him some feedback by asking questions that show their interest in what he is saying. One useful approach is for the mother to rephrase what the child is trying to say when his language skills do not allow him to express himself very well.
The Need for Confidence
A child needs to feel self-confidence and also to feel that others trust him. This is clear in statements that a child makes, asserting that he is bigger or stronger than so and so.
We have to make the child feel confident of himself and of his ability to achieve many things. This can be done by asking the child to undertake certain simple chores that are within his ability. The child should get used to do such a sort of thing.
A child needs more to feel that he is trusted. One way to achieve this is to avoid mocking him and severely criticizing him when he makes a mistake. Another helpful thing is to know how to deal with situation in which the child fails to do what he is supposed to. Such situations should be exploited to reinforce the child's confidence that he can succeed, rather than used to discourage him and shatter his confidence.
A child is curious by nature and loves to investigate things. He may break a toy to find out what it has inside. He may ask many questions about the situations he goes through, sometimes to an extent that gets on the parents' nerves.
It is important for the mother to understand the basis of such types of behavior, so that she may not scold the child or even punish him.
It is also important to understand the child's need to develop his mental abilities. If a child asks why a car has license plates, for example, his father, instead of giving him a straight answer, can ask him in return, "If a driver hits a person with his car and runs away, how can the police identify the car?" If the child says, "By the car's number," the father can point out that this makes it necessary for each car to have a number of its own, different from the numbers of all other cars. He might then ask the child to tray and find two cars with the same number. The child, after studying the license numbers of several cars, will realize that what his father has told him is true.
The Need to Play
The need to play is one of the important needs of children, and they cannot do without it. In fact, when a child does not play much, that might mean that he has a problem or that he suffers maladjustment. In dealing with this particular need a mother should observe the following:
a) giving the child sufficient time to play without expressing intolerance or vexation;
b) investing this need to play to teach the child discipline and good manners, the way to deal with the toys and instruments of other children, the importance of avoiding any disturbance to people and guests in particular, and the fact that there are places in which he cannot play, such as masjids (mosques) and company offices;
c) teaching the child while he is playing, by getting him educational toys that develop his mental skills and teach him new things; and
d) making an effort to avoid things in which the child has no active role or that limit his physical movements, such as watching video films or playing computer games, since the child needs to move, and part of his time should be filled with games that require physical motion, such as ball games, bicycle riding, running, and so on.
The Need for Justice
Justice is something that all people need, but in the case of children, this need is felt more pressingly. That is why the Prophet, peace be upon him, ordered parents to be fair with their children, stressing the point. Husain Ibn 'Amer is quoted as saying:
I heard Al-Nu'man Ibn Basheer, may Allah bless both him and his father with his favor, say from the pulpit:
"My father gave me a gift, and 'Amra Bint Rawahah said, 'I will not accept this unless you get Allah's Messenger, peace be upon him, to be a witness thereof.'
"My father went to Allah's Messenger and said, 'I gave a son of mine and of 'Amra Bint Rawahah's a gift, but she asked me to get you, Allah's Messenger, to witness that.'
"The Prophet asked, 'Did you give all your children similar gifts?'
"My father said he did not.
"The Prophet said, 'Fear Allah and be fair with your children.'
"So my father came back and took back his gift."
Whatever reasons a mother has to prefer one of her children over another, that is not going to convince the other child. It is, therefore, very important for parents to check their special feelings towards one of their children and not allow these feelings to influence their relations with their other children.
One of the cases that call for attention is that of a new-born child, which becomes a problem for many mothers. Due to the importance of this problem, I hope I will be able to address it separately in the future.
Although a child has many needs, I will not go further in listing them. Parents have two obligations in regards to these needs. First, they should make an effort to satisfy them. Second, they should take advantage of them to teach the child the manners he needs and the behavior he should follow.
5- Stressing the Harmony between Husband and Wife:
It is hard for one person alone to undertake the upbringing and education of a child, and the roles of the father and mother complement each other. Things that should be observed in this regard are the following.
a) The relationship between the two parents should be a good one, because, as already mentioned, psychological stability is important for the children. A wife who is not fond of her husband should not allow that feeling to influence the care and attention she gives to her children.
b) The two parents should agree, as much as possible, on the educational methods they follow with their children.
c) Each of the two parents should nurture the children's trust of the other parent. The father should, for example, avoid criticizing or blaming his wife, not to mention mocking or rebuking her, in front of their children. Even if there are disagreements between her and her husband, the mother, likewise, should make the children trust their father and feel that he has their best interests in mind, and that even if he is very busy, he is engaged in important matters that are of interest to all Muslims or that serve the interests of his children.
One thing that should be carefully observed is that any differences in the attitudes and viewpoints of the parents should not affect the children, who must not feel that there are such differences. Our children are the most precious things we have and we should keep our discussions and differences away from them.
6- Dealing with the Mistakes of Children
Many of our educational mistakes are in the way we deal with the mistakes of our children. Points that should be observed in this regard include the following:
a) Do Not Be Too Idealistic
Often we are too idealistic with our children and expect from them what is beyond them, and then we blame them for what we regard as mistakes, although they are not really so. In early childhood, for example, a child does not have certain motor skills. If he carries a cup or a glass, it might fall from his hands and break. Instead of chiding and blaming him, a mother can say something like: "I am glad you have not hurt yourself. I know you did not mean the cup to fall down. It is wrong when one does something like this on purpose. Now, let us try to remove the broken glass so no one will get hurt." Such an approach defines clearly to him what is wrong and what is right, makes him accustomed to be responsible for what he does, and gives him the feeling that he is the focus of attention and that he is appreciated. It is really odd that we are ready to break the hearts of our children when they break a pot that might not be worth more than two riyals. Are children less valuable than pots?
b) Apply Proportionate Punishment
A mother might find it necessary to punish her child, and a punishment, when applied where it is needed, is an educational tool. Some mothers, however, apply punishment when they are in a state of great anger, which turns the punishment into an act of revenge. In fact, in many cases, this is how children feel when their parents spank them.
The hard feelings that the child will have when he receives such punishment will reflect on his relations with other people; the effect of that punishment will continue even till he is an old man. It is very hard to eradicate such feelings as result from disproportionate punishment.
c) Avoid Obscenities
When some parents get mad at their children and want to reprimand them, the parents use vulgar, or even obscene, language, or they employ rude expressions in criticizing the children. Such a behavior on the part of parents gets the children used to improper language. A rational person does not get so angry as to forget his manners in dealing with people, and particularly in dealing with his children.
c) Avoid Insults
It is very important in dealing with the mistakes of children to avoid insulting them, hurting their feelings, or telling them that they have failed, or that they are childish, disorganized, stupid, or something else of this sort. Insults contribute a lot to the loss of self-confidence and cultivate in the child bad manners and teach him bad language.
d) Avoid Embarrassing the Child
The same as we hate to be criticized openly, our children also hate to be criticized in front of other people. When a child makes a mistake in the presence of guests, it is wrong for her mother or father to reprimand and embarrass her in front of them or in front of other children.
7- Suggested Methods of Behavior Cultivation or Correction
Many parents believe that right behavior is cultivated through orders and warnings and through punishment and discipline. These represent only a small fraction of the collective methods of teaching children how to behave. In the short time that I have, I will mention some of the methods that can be useful to a mother in cultivating good behavior and correcting the bad behavior of her children. The following are not an exclusive list.
Often a child, to get his wishes met, resorts to undesirable modes of behavior like crying, screaming, embarrassing his mother in front of her guests, and so on. The best way to deal with this behavior is not severe punishment or anger, but rather ignoring the mode of behavior and declining to meet the wish of the child. The child should get accustomed to use proper and quiet ways to express his wishes. This method of ignoring the child eliminates many harmful habits he may get used to, or at least softens these habits.
b) Setting an Example
I do not believe I need to go through the importance and effect of setting an example in education; everybody knows these things. When a child is asked to tidy his room by a parent whose own room is untidy, or when he is forbidden to use obscene language and he hears such a language used by an angry parent, or when a mother forbids lying and then asks the child to tell a lie to his father;- in all these cases the deeds of the parents belie their words.
A reward is effective in reinforcing satisfactory behavior. It does not have to be a material reward; it can take the form of praise, encouragement, and expression of satisfaction. One way of rewarding a child by his mother is to promise to ask his father to take the child for a ride or do something else that the child enjoys. Rewards, however, should be used moderately so that they do not turn into a price paid to the child in return for his good behavior.
d) Dialogue and Persuasion
An important factor in building up the personality of a child is to get him used to dialogue and persuasion. The parents should listen to what the child has to say, and in turn tell him their point of view and their desires in a justified and convincing manner. It is easier for the child to accept things when they are presented in such a manner, and this method helps to develop his personality and skills. This, however, requires moderation, for a child needs to learn to obey and to know that even if he is not convinced, he should listen to what his parents tell him to do.
e) Clear Rules
It is necessary for the mother to establish for her children rules that they understand and can observe, like getting them used to clean their rooms when they wake up, to refrain from annoying other people, and so on. In order for this approach to work, it has to be compatible with the children's age, and the rules have to be clear to them and easy to understand and follow.
f) Resolving Disputes in a Friendly Manner
Quarrels and disputes between siblings are sometimes very annoying to their parents. Things may get worse when the parents interfere. A mother should know that that is something which she cannot completely eliminate, but she can reduce the problem to a certain extent.
One way of doing that is to get the children used to resolve their differences amiably and designing for them some rules and incentives that encourage and help them to do so. The mother should stay out of minor disputes, for her interference cultivates in her children a weak personality and a habit of complaining and seeking the help of others.
g) Changing the Environment
This can be done in several ways, such as:
Enriching the Environment by providing an alternative for the child when he does something undesirable. So instead of letting him scribble on books, he can have a pad or a notebook to write on it whatever he wants. Instead of playing with pots and utensils, he can be given toy pots and toy utensils to play with.
Restricting the Environment by letting the child have his own things, like his own cup, his own room, or a particular place that nobody else can use or get into. Such things make him feel no need to tamper with what belongs to others.
It is wrong to count on locking certain places, such as the formal dining room or the home office, or else the child would be encouraged to play there whenever he has the chance, for what is forbidden has a special temptation. Sometimes a mother locks a room, which keeps the child out, but once he has the chance to get in, he will play with everything.
Preparing the Child When a Change Is to Be Made. A child may get exposed to certain changes in his life, and he should be prepared. For example, after sleeping in the same room with his parents, he may be moved to a room of his own or to one he shares with older siblings. It is hard for the child when such a change comes as a surprise. The mother may say something like, "You are old enough now to sleep in your own room (or with your older brothers)." The same thing is true when a mother wants her daughter to start helping with the housework.
h) Building Habits
Behavior and moral standards are acquired by getting the child used to them and developing them as habits, rather than by orders and warnings. To get the child used to them needs patience, and it has to be done gradually.
These are some brief ideas and suggestions aimed at improving the role a mother plays. She should not neglect to supplicate to ALlah and ask Him to make her children grow to be righteous men and women. Allah describes upright people as saying, "Allah give us in our spouses and offspring our heart's satisfaction, and make us examples for the pious." (Surah Al Furqan 25:74).
Allah has better knowledge. God's peace and blessings be on our Prophet Muhammad sallallahu alaihi wa sallam and all his kin and Companions.