The buzzing energy of Ramadan is everywhere and is catching on like wildfire. Supermarkets are displaying delicious dates, dried apricots, and figs. There are special prices on popular Ramadan foods like sambusa dough, beverages, oats, and lentils for soup. Advertisements on television show images of warm Ramadan gatherings, keeping the spirit of Ramadan alive and mosques have started charity meal coupons that you can buy to provide those in need with filling food to break their fast.

How can we make sure the lively Ramadan bee stings the little ones in our family so that they are just as excited as we are? If young children insist on fasting like the adults in their family, let them fast for half the day, with lots of encouragement and praise. Or they can fast the whole day but only on the weekends, or a couple of days out of the month. Print out an attractively decorated calendar for the days of Ramadan and hang it on the wall or fridge.

Put a sticker on each day that the child fasted. Children under the age of nine can earn a precious gift for fasting 10 days by the end of the month. The older the child, the more days he/she will have to fast to receive a prize.

Even children who are too young to fast can be involved in the unique daily Ramadan routine. Give your four-year-old the job of announcing to the family when it is time to eat. He/she can watch the TV channel or open a window and listen to the call of the Maghreb prayer from the neighborhood mosque. Buy or borrow colorful books for children that talk about Ramadan and Eid.

Children of all ages can also make a variety of sweet date treats for the whole family to enjoy. Open large dates, remove the pits, and fill with cornflakes, almonds, or pistachios.

Arrange in a serving dish and drizzle either honey or tahini over the dates. Sprinkle with sesame seeds, black seeds, or chocolate sprinkles. For extra fun and ease, stick a toothpick in each garnished date. Another tasty idea is to shape date paste into round balls. Kids will love getting their hands gooey and sticky with the date paste. Then roll these date balls around in coconut or chocolate sprinkles or finely chopped almonds.

Start a Qur’an reading contest in your house during this holy month. The child who reads the most pages of the Holy Qur’an during Ramadan will get (for example) Rs100, and the child who comes in second place will get Rs50, and so on.

To motivate their children to fast, mothers can invite their children’s best friends for the Iftar meal. All the guests are children only and they should be fasting as well. They gather before the call of the Maghreb and each child mentions one benefit of fasting, and then they read a story or some sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

The sunnah of breaking the fast on dates and water or dates and milk can be emphasized. For the Iftar meal, mothers can prepare the child’s favorite foods with plenty of desserts too. After breaking the fast, the children should pray Maghreb together, and then be allowed to play freely until the night prayer. You can also prepare some Islamic knowledge questions and split the group into teams and offer rewards for the winning team. The kids can then pray the night prayer at home or if possible, they can all go to the mosque to pray and listen to the supplication after Taraweeh prayers, with adult supervision of course.

In fact, parents should encourage kids to go to Taraweeh prayers, to ask Allah for whatever they want in supplication, to donate money to the poor people around the mosque, and to find serenity and peace in the mosque. Children should aim to fast and go to the mosque to please Allah alone, and not to seek any material gain. But at least in the beginning, there is no harm in giving them a simple token of appreciation. Once in a while, when my children go to Taraweeh prayers with me I take them out afterward for ice cream or we stop at a stationary shop and I let them buy one or two items.

Getting your children involved in Suhoor, the pre-dawn meal may be a little more challenging, but you should try. The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said, “Have suhoor because truly there is blessing in suhoor.” Eating before dawn gives the body energy and the needed nutrition to fast for a whole day. If your children are sleepy, the Suhoor doesn’t have to be a long and complicated meal. They can eat a quick healthy snack like a bowl of whole-grain cereal, granola bars and milk, fruit, toast with butter and jam, or any sandwich that they prefer. The summer days are long and hot so you can help your fasting kids by allowing them to sleep in and not wake up too early. They could also take a late afternoon nap if they feel tired. Make sure they drink lots of fluids after sunset until the fasting day starts again.

Young children should not be forced to fast at all, because fasting is only obligatory after puberty. Moreover, when a person is occupied with something interesting, time seems to fly. So older kids can read a good book or work on a 500-or-more-piece puzzle or watch something on TV, but not more than one or two hours per day. We wish all our readers, young and old, a happy, fruitful, and healthy month of Ramadan.

– By Amal Al-Sibai