How to make your child’s first Ramadan fast healthy and spiritual
Fasting during Ramadan is compulsory once people reach puberty, anything before should be a choice they make
For many Muslims this Ramadan will mark a proud moment when their children move to the next phase in their lives and start fasting.
For those youngsters who have reached puberty it is a milestone in their lives when they show their commitment to God and start life as an adult Muslim.
But many children much younger who have watched their parents abstain throughout their lives, reach a point where they want to at least try for a day or more and this can be as young as five or seven-years-old.
The key said Nasif Kayed, managing director of the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding in Dubai, is that with younger children they are not pressured into fasting and that it is something they do by their own choice.
“It is important to keep the experience very positive for them,” he told Al Arabiya English, “You should give only positive reaction to your children’s efforts. Any amount of fasting that they manage before they reach puberty is an achievement and should be rewarded as such.”
He said that as a parent it was a very proud moment when his children first decided they wanted to fast. Like many cultures around the world, he said it was increasingly rare to get the entire family sitting around the dining table together at meal times.
“It is such a rare occasion that we manage to get all the family together, but during Ramadan, when it reaches Iftar this is not up for negotiation – we’re all in this together – we eat together,” Kayed joked, adding that parents found this experience a very proud one with children and adults all learning from it.
He said that children should be encouraged to maintain their energy and hydration levels and encouraged to only try fasting for just a day or even a few hours at first. But he said it was a great way to prepare for when they are older and start fasting as adults.
The holy month inevitably sees a multitude of information batted around the media about dieting tips and how to cope with the hunger and potential dehydration - mostly aimed at consenting adults who have long been at that stage in their lives where abstention is a part of their lives as Muslims.
But what advice should parents of young children wanting to try fasting be given?
Racha Adib, nutrition and lifestyle specialist, told Al Arabiya English that fasting is no easy task for young children because their bodies require more energy and fluids than adults.
“As it is up to the parent to asses if their child should or should not fast it is advisable to consult a pediatrician to assess the child’s readiness based on their health status, nutrient needs, age, and activity level,” she explained.
“Should the child take up fasting, parents should monitor their children closely. Because children are growing, staying nourished is essential. Make sure the child eats a variety of foods from all food groups during their non-fasting hours such as wholegrains, fruits, vegetables, dairy, meat and beans, and healthy fats. Varying the food groups ensures your child gets a variety of nutrients. Another way is by having the child avoid empty calories such as carbonated drinks and candy as they provide calories with very little nutrition.”
With Ramadan falling at the start of summer as temperatures are beginning to soar, Adib warned that younger children were more prone to dehydration.
“Because mild to moderate dehydration can happen very easily in young children, monitoring their water intake is essential,” she added. “Children need anywhere between seven and 11 glasses of water per day. High-intensity exercise when fasting is also not advisable for the little ones.”
For parents of any background, the moment their child shows an interest in their family’s heritage and values is an important and proud occasion.
For Dubai-based British expat Osman Alam, this moment was during Ramadan in 2014 when his son, Shayaan Nabil, asked if he could try fasting at the young age of seven.
“He was determined to fast, as he had seen everyone around him fasting and talking about Ramadan,” Alam told Al Arabiya English, adding “He kept asking me questions and saying he wanted to fast.”
He said he explained to Shayaan that he was too young, but the then seven-year-old was determined to give it a try. In that Ramadan he fasted on two Saturdays, something he repeated in 2015.
For the proud Muslim father, whose family’s roots originate from Pakistan admitted it was a proud moment for him.
“As a Muslim it’s a proud moment to see that you have raised your kids to a level of understanding about Ramadan at an earlier stage,” he explained.
Alam said the wellbeing of his son remained his main concern, adding: “As a parent you worry if he will he be okay. Will he get tired? What if he over does it? But the feeling you get once your child completes their first fast is amazing as they have reached that completion of one of the five pillars of Islam – fasting.”
Alam said that before his first day of fasting the pair discussed the physical implications – how he would not have the same level of energy and would not be able to run around quite as much.
He said it was better during this experience not to play on his games console and to pray. He explained his son was eager to learn the spiritual aspects of Ramadan as well as the physical – reading the Quran, watching television programs that would educate him further.
Alam was nine when he first fasted, and remembers all too well the importance of his parents when he first made the decision.
“My family were a huge help, regularly talking to me, giving me encouragement.” He said they prepared his favorite foods as a reward for when he broke his fast.
For Alam fasting in the UK was a challenge because of the long days during the summer. But he said that on the flipside, the very short winter days helped to prepare him for fasting as an adult. Something he admits helped coach him for his adult life as a committed Muslim.
And he offered this advice to parents of young children wanting to try fasting for the first time: “I would say to educate them more about fasting before they actually do it. Fasting is not easy, especially in the summer. Kids look up to their parents and elder siblings who might be fasting, so it’s only natural for them to want to do it too.”
He said he closely monitored his health throughout the day and making sure that this remained Shayaan’s choice throughout.
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