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Chapter 26. Disciplining Children

The best of discipline is that which is done at a young age. On the other hand, if a boy is left to his own characteristics and matured possessing these characteristics, then changing him would be difficult.

A poet said:

If you straighten the branches they will straighten up,
but wood does not soften if you amend it.
Discipline benefits children gradually,
but it will not benefit those who have aged.

Perseverance in discipline is a significant principle, particularly in regard to children as it benefits them in that good becomes a habit to them.

A poet said:

Do not neglect disciplining a child,
even if he complains of the pain of exhaustion.

Know that a doctor considers the age of the patient, his place, time and then he prescribes the medicine. Likewise discipline should be suited to each child, and the signs of the success or failure of a child can be noticed from a very early age; a clever child is stimulated by learning and the unintelligent is not availed by learning similar to the way a camel tamer does not become intelligent by practicing sport.

A man once told Sufyan al-Thawri, "We hit our children if they do not pray." Sufyan told him, "You should rather [encourage them and] give them glad tidings."

Zubayd al-Yafi used to tell the boys, "Whoever prays will have five walnuts."

Ibrahim ibn Adham said, "O Son! Seek the knowledge of hadith. I will give you one Dirham for every hadith that you hear." So on account of this he started to seek the knowledge of hadith.

Section One: Taking Care of the Trust

A father should know that his child is a trust placed in his hands, so he should make him avoid bad company from a young age. He should teach him the good, for a child's heart is empty and accepts anything that is given to it. He also should make him love shyness and generosity. He should make him wear white clothes. Thus, if he asks to wear colored clothes then he should tell him that these are the clothes of girls and effeminates. He should tell him the stories of the righteous, make him avoid love poetry, because it is a seed of corruption, he should not prevent him from reading poems about generosity or courageousness, so that he exalts these characteristics and becomes courageous.

If he makes a mistake he should overlook it. His teacher should expose his secrets and mistakes, he should not reprehend him except in private. He should prohibit excessive eating, excessive sleeping, make him accustomed to simple food, minimal sleep for it is healthier. He should be treated with physical exercises such as walking, disciplined by being prohibited from turning his back to people and from sneezing and yawning in their presence. If he chooses to exhibit a bad characteristic, he should be deterred from it excessively before it becomes a habit, and it is fine to discipline him if lenience is of no use. Luqman told his son, "O Son! Disciplining the son acts as a fertiliser for sowing seeds."

If the boy is aggressive, his father should be lenient with him. Ibn Abbas said, "The aggressiveness of a boy is an increase in his intelligence."

Section Two: Future of your Child

Wise people used to say, "Your son is like your flower the first seven years, and your servant the second seven years. By the time he reaches fourteen, if you have been good to him then he will be your partner, and if you were bad to him then he will be your enemy." A child should not be beaten or offended after he reaches puberty, because then he will hope to lose his father in order that he may have his own way. Whoever reaches twenty years of age and has not become righteous, then his godliness is remote, however leniency should be practiced with everyone.