So your child wants to start fasting? Isra Hashmi, a mother of three, has some tips to help you both.
Although children before puberty are not obligated to fast,[i] scholars have recommended that parents encourage children to try from the age of seven to help them get accustomed to it. The logic is that if they practise a few years before puberty, it will be much easier for them later.
Kids want to copy their parents. They may want to fast because they see their parents fasting, eating special foods and generally being excited about the month of Ramadan. This is a good time to talk to them about intention and choosing to fast only because of Allah (swt).
This year, my seven year-old son expressed great interest and enthusiasm for fasting. This was probably due to the environment of our home. We had put up lights, made signs, crafted Ramadan cards, and prepared special treats to give our kids at the end of each day. All this helped to create a festive mood to show them how important Ramadan is. If we make it a priority, they will make it a priority.
Here are some tips to help and support your child’s first fast:
Pick a day when they can sleep in after sahur and when you know they don’t have many activities scheduled, like on the weekend. Fasting is not meant to be a hardship, especially at a young age, so try to make it as easy as possible for them.
Start slow and set gradual and attainable goals in order to build confidence. My son fasted from dawn until 1pm on Wednesday, 4pm on Thursday, 6pm on Friday before finally making it to maghrib at 8pm on Saturday.
The night before, get your children to help you prepare or pick something they want to eat for sahur. Even if they want to eat cereal while you want them to eat eggs, giving them ownership of an important part of the fast will make them more willing. Let them eat cereal and they will understand that next time, they might need to eat something more.
Wake them up an hour before dawn because they need more time to get up and eat, since they might be tired and eating slower than usual. Encourage them to drink water and leave time to read Qur’an together before fajr prayer.
3. During the fast
Pray all the ritual prayers together on time. Since Ramadan is about prayer and reflection, let them experience this. Keeping them busy in prayer and learning about Islam will also help to keep their mind off food.
In addition to prayer, keep them busy reading books and doing crafts as the fastest way to feel hungry is not do anything. Light activities to help keep their mind off of food. Be prepared with a list of things to do so if you find them bored you can offer them something.
Emphasise character development, as fasting is not only about food and drink but also about controlling our attitude, and not getting in fights or arguments. If you find your child getting cranky, let them know that they have three chances before they will have to break their fast.
Encourage your children to take a midday nap or rest. Even if they don’t usually nap, lie down together to show them it’s fine to let our bodies rest while fasting.
With all this in mind, listen to your children when they say how hungry they are or that they can’t do it anymore. Allow them to express what they are feeling. Words of praise can help them, such as ‘You’re doing great’ or ‘I love how you are fasting masha’Allah!’.
Let them pick their meal for the evening. Like sahur, it is a great way to encourage ownership and will make them excited to reach their goal. Have them help prepare iftar, such as setting the table with dates and food for everyone to eat.
Celebrate your child’s first fast with a special cake and gifts. Make it special by inviting friends and family over and let your child see how proud you are in front of them. For my son’s first fast we gave him a watch as a gift so that he could keep track of iftar time! Or get your child’s other fasting friends together for a ‘fasting party’, filled with activities and games to celebrate all the kids who are fasting for the first time.
Practising fasting doesn’t have to be only in Ramadan. Encourage them to fast on Mondays or Thursdays throughout the year so that they can practise consistently. Let them see you fasting on other days besides Ramadan as well, to keep the spirit of fasting in the home.
Fasting is a lifelong journey that starts at a young age. The earlier you begin encouraging your child to fast, the easier and more natural it will be for them later.
Isra’s son, Eissa, shares his fasting tips with other kids: