Recommendations for parents regarding training children to fast
Ramadan is the best month to train your child and teach him how to overcome the desires of his body and develop his ability to shoulder responsibility.
It has been proven that the month of Ramadan is the best time to train children to perform religious obligations at an early age. Al-Bukhari and Muslim narrated that the honorable Companions, may Allah be pleased with them, would train their young children to fast during this month. Likewise, modern studies and field research proves that the psychological and physical growth of those children who fast during the month of Ramadan is much better than those who do not and that they are therefore more responsible.
The age of ten is the best time to start training the child to fast, because at this age fasting will not cause any health problems for the child. However, we warn against training the child to fast before the age of seven because the child’s body at that time is in urgent need of certain amounts of nutrients to cope with his physical rapid growth and to protect him from diseases.
There are two ways to train the child to fast:
The first way depends upon delaying the child’s ordinary breakfast from 7 AM to 12 PM. After having the delayed breakfast, the child should refrain from eating until the Maghrib Prayer, when he would eat with his family. In this way, the child will fast 5 hours every day for a number of days. After that, we should delay the breakfast to 11 AM, then to 9 AM, and so on.
The other way is that the child has the Suhoor (pre-dawn) meal with his family and then breaks his fast at noon (i.e., he will fast for about 7 hours) for ten days. During the second ten days of the month of Ramadan, one should increase the period of the child’s fast until the ‘Asr Prayer (about 10 hours of fasting). During the last ten days of Ramadan, the child should fast like the rest of his family members - from Suhoor until the Maghrib Prayer.
By the following Ramadan, the child will be able to fast the whole month with the permission of Allah The Almighty.
How to monitor your child?
First: The mother should monitor her child during the fast. If she feels that he is visibly tired or sick due to the fast, she must make him break his fast immediately. We must also pay attention to the fact that there are some diseases that prevent a child from fasting particularly kidney diseases, because a person suffering from such diseases needs water all the time. This also applies to those who suffer from diabetes, tuberculosis, anemia, gastric ulcers and similar diseases as diagnosed by a specialist doctor.
Second: Training the child to fast should be gradual, because increasing the hours of fasting day after day and year after year helps to create balance in the body regarding the physiological changes that happen due to the fast. Consequently, the child will be able to fast without any negative health effects or exhaustion. This will also make him taste the sweetness of fasting.
Third: The mother should not fear for her child due to the fast under the pretext that he is still young, she would be surprised when she sees his enthusiasm to imitate his parents and older brothers and sisters who fast. This will also accustom the child to the beloved traditions of this great month such as the family gathering around the table at the Suhoor and Iftaar meals, not to mention the popular traditions that distinguish every Muslim country.
Forth: We have to break our fast as early as possible by having some ripe or dried dates, fruit juice or small amounts of sweetened water slowly as the Prophet, , would do. It was narrated on the authority of Anas, may Allah be pleased with him, that he said, “The Messenger of Allah would break his fast before performing the Maghrib prayer with three fresh dates; if there were no fresh dates, he would eat three dry dates; and if there were no dry date-fruits; he would take three draughts of water.”[Abu Daawood]
The child should not drink iced water immediately at the time of Iftaar (breaking fast) because this disturbs the digestive system and hinders digestion. It is preferred to have warm liquids such as soup first because such foods stimulate the stomach.
Fifth: The Iftaar meal should be balanced and provide the child with the necessary calories. It is recommended that the Iftaar contains proteins (pulses, meat or chicken) that help in building new tissue and making up for those that have been destroyed. It should also contain vegetables, fruits, and starches (bread, rice and pasta) in addition to very few fats.
Sixth: The Suhoor meal should be delayed as much as possible in imitation of the Prophet, , who said: “My Ummah (nation) will remain upon good so long as they hasten the Iftaar and delay the Suhoor.” [Ahmad]
This meal should be rich and satiating and it should also contain proteins, sugars and fats that can be found in eggs, beans, yoghurt, vegetables and fruits. It is also recommended to have dairy products as they contain a high percentage of the proteins, fats and liquids that secure the needs of the child. These products are also considered integrated foods and they cover a long period of fasting.
Seventh: The Suhoor meal should not contain any pickles or spicy foods because they cause thirst. It is also recommended at that time to have small amounts of liquids repeatedly, particularly fruit juice or water, to make up for the deprivation of water during the whole day. Ifit is necessary to have some sweets (kunaafah, kadayf, and so on), this should be after the Iftaar and not in the Suhoor meal so as not to feel thirsty the next day.
Eighth: The physical activity of the child should be reduced during the fast, but mental activities are allowed because they are not exhausting. Hence, children can study before Iftaar.
Ninth: Finally, the mother should be keen on waking up her child to have the Suhoor meal and getting him accustomed to seeing his family members practicing this great religious rite until he himself becomes acquainted with the religious practices of this blessed month.
We should also make use of the opportunity of the month of Ramadan to train the child in observing the prayers on time in addition to the fast. We should also teach him how to recite the Quran and recognize the sublime meanings of the fast to implant the values of mercy and kindness to the poor and the needy in his soul.