Encouraging Children to Pray
In a Hadith narrated by Abdullah Ibn Qart the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said, “The first act that the servant of Allah will be accountable for on the Day of Judgment will be prayer. If it is good, then the rest of his acts will be good. And if it is evil, then the rest of his acts will be evil.” (Tabarani) Furthermore, prayer was the first act of worship that was made obligatory by Allah. Therefore, due to its extreme importance to the Believer, prayer should be one of the first acts of worship that parents should teach their children.
When discussing teaching children how to make prayer parents typically ask when it is necessary to begin teaching their children. Let us be realistic; learning how to perform prayer is not easy for children or in some cases adults. It can take a lot of work to master even the simplest elements of prayer. The learner must memorize the various du’a and Surahs of the Qur’an – not to mention the other required portions of the prayer. Furthermore, there must be work on proper pronunciation and rules on how, when, and what makes prayer valid. This is not an overnight process but rather one that takes time. Therefore, this leaves us with the question – when should children learn how to perform prayer?
Abdullah ibn Amr ibn al-As, narrated that the Apostle of Allah,(pbuh), said, “Command your children to start prayer when they become seven years old, and spank them for it (prayer) when they become ten years old, and arrange their beds (to sleep) separately.” (Abu Dawud).
This does not mean that parents can only start teaching their children how to perform it when they reach the age of seven. Rather, informal instruction should start when a child starts to show an interest in prayer, which usually occurs around the age of two. It is only human nature that children love to imitate their parents. In fact, this is one method that Allah has provided us for teaching our youth.
Therefore, it is important for parents of small children to let them “pretend” to perform the prayer along side of the parents. The benefits for this are twofold. First, it teaches children that it is necessary to perform prayer everyday five times a day. And second, it helps children learn the physical movements of the prayer. It really is amazing how fast a two-year-old will learn the phrase Allahu-Akbar (Allah is Greatest) when he performs prayer along side of his parents!
The next step is to teach your child Al-Fatihah (The Opening Chapter of the Qur’an). This should begin around the age of three or four. When teaching children Surahs or any other portions of the prayer that must be memorized it is important to remember to break down the instructions by using a reasonable number of verses or small segments.
In other words, teaching a child how to perform the prayer should be done progressively in small steps. It is important to practice reciting the previously learned material consistently everyday along with any new material. These practice sessions should only last between 5 to 15 minutes. At this age, length of practice is not as important as consistency.
Lastly, one of the most important aspects of successful teaching is praise and encouragement. Remember that children like to please their parents. Also, it is really important that parents praise and celebrate their children’s accomplishments. This is especially true for learning how to perform prayer. After the mastery of a section, children typically feel a strong sense of achievement. Praise motivates the child to continue to learn and accomplish new goals.