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Ice cream and Friday Prayer: Creating Positive Associations in Childhood

A friend of mine was recently reminiscing about her days as a young girl. She told me that her father would take her and her brother to Friday prayers with him, then they’d all go out for ice cream afterwards. It was their special Friday routine.

While she was relaying this story to me, her face lit up and she became more animated than usual. Those special moments with her dad, although they took place many years ago, seemed to still have an impact on her overall relationship with her father and with jummah prayer. The two were inextricably linked. As an adult, she has an excellent relationship with her father and a positive relationship with the mosque as well. She loves attending jummah prayers.

This story made me think about the power of positive and negative association. Depending on children’s experiences in early life, they may (consciously or subconsciously) assign positive or negative feelings to certain places, people, foods and cultural/religious practices. For example, if a child is constantly punished for not eating his vegetables, negative feelings may continue to be associated with that type of food later on in life.

Similarly, like in the jummah example above, if a child is exposed to positive experiences around studying the Quran, attending prayer at the mosque, reading and learning, she will be more likely to continue associating positive feelings with all of those things.

This is important because all parents have mental lists of what they want their children to accomplish, both in the religious sense and in the worldly sense. More often than not, we push our children to achieve those goals without necessarily considering how we are doing it.

Are we pushing kids to finish memorizing a certain surah by standing over them like drill sergeants? Do we take them to the mosque and make it the most miserable experience by glaring at them each time they utter a word or fidget? Do we talk down to them each time their scores aren’t perfect (“you got 90% on your exam? Well what happened to the rest of the 10%?”).

In 10 years when they can make their own decisions, will they willingly open the Quran or step inside a mosque or naturally want to excel at what they do? They might because at the end of the day, Allah (swt) is the One who guides. But if they have years of negative experiences with all of these things, they will have a more challenging time overcoming those bad experiences and actively pursuing the goals you (and they) have set out for them.

The Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (saw) teaches us that how we convey something to others is just as important as what we are conveying:

“So by mercy from Allah, [O Muhammad], you were lenient with them. And if you had been rude [in speech] and harsh in heart, they would have disbanded from about you” (3:159).

In staying true to the Sunnah of the Prophet, we also need to be aware of the experiences we’re building in our children’s lives. Instead of being purely goal-oriented, we also need to adopt a framework of being experience-oriented. This is in the interest of establishing long-term, consistent positive associations with positive behaviours and actions.

Of course it’s great if your child finishes memorizing that juz’, but it’s even better if she actually loves the experience of reading and memorizing because you make it fun, enjoyable and rewarding. She will automatically ascribe positive feelings with the Quran. In 10 years when she can make her own decisions, perhaps that feeling of love and joy you helped her develop will make her open up the Quran on her own.

Simply put, if you want your child to love something, create happy memories and experiences around that thing and they will naturally gravitate towards it.

Also, ice cream makes everything better.

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“Our Lord, grant us from among our wives and offspring comfort to our eyes and make us an example for the righteous.”

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