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Techniques to Shape Your Children’s Behavior

01 January, 2024
Q As-Salam `Alaykum. I have a concern about my son who is going to be eight. He misbehaves with me sometimes and says bad words.

I told him that this is not the way to be a good Muslim, but he doesn’t want to understand it. He just loves playing outside. If I tell him to stop playing now and continue later, he doesn’t care; he just wants to live by himself.

I always pray to Allah for him as well. Please tell me some ideas because he is very hard to handle. What should I do with him? JazakAllah.


In this counseling answer:

To begin with, speak to your son and let him know that you will now start to watch and notice his good behavior.

Make a chart on the wall and for each day of the week whenever he does something good, draw a star on the chart.

Whenever your son does what you have agreed, make a big fuss of him and give him lots of extra kisses, cuddles, and treats that he enjoys like going out or simply spending time with you.

If your son succeeds in these targets, then you must stick to your agreement and reward him as he deserves. But make sure this is not a financial reward; mostly children prefer to have some ‘one- to – one’ time with their parents.

As-Salaamu ‘Alaykum wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuhuh,

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Thank you for writing in with this issue as it is one many parents struggle with.

Basically, as parents, we see the situation only in terms of our own priorities – which are not shared by our children!

When we complain to our children, we somehow want them to see that their behavior does not fit into our worldview and needs. However, this is not something they will appreciate or value because they are after all only children and do not share or are not even aware of adult responsibilities and worries.

They have no interest or awareness of the time limits, social expectations, financial restrictions etc. that adults do. It is something that comes with age and personal responsibility.

However, we tend to encourage them to listen to our guidance or simply do as we ask by using these rather complicated explanations in which they generally have little interest.

Check out this counseling video:

Psychologically, children go through different stages during their development. This takes place mostly during the first 12 years of their lives (after that the development is based on life experience and personal ability).

Knowing what these stages mean is helpful because it teaches us not only what to teach children at certain ages but how to teach them what we want them to know for the betterment of their lives.

Of course, all children are different and some children are more mature in their behavior and thinking, so each child may not fit each stage exactly, but this is the exception rather than the rule.

Given that your child is 8, he is possibly experiencing the following stage of development:

During the ages of 7 – 12, the child begins to apply logic and evidence for their thinking. This means that if you explain things to them in a logical and clear manner with some good concrete examples of what you mean, then they are able to understand this at that age.

You will find that it is after the age of 12 years old that your child will be able to think about life in a deeper way with more spiritual meaning and understanding and consider different opinions and allow them to change his/her thinking. But at the moment, he may not be able to understand this level of conversation.

The reason that it is important for you to know this information is because when we explain how we want children to behave, we do so in a language that is often too adult for them to understand. We need to consider as the Sunnah tells us to explain things to them in a way they can understand.

This is why I think when you talk to him about Islamic character, this is not easily understood by him so you need to be more specific and literally break down what you are trying to say to him in simple steps.

Techniques to Shape Your Children’s Behavior - About Islam

As psychologists, we advise that the easiest thing to help children change their behavior is what we call ‘star charts’. The basic principle is to show the child that you have noticed them being good and that everyone sees their good behavior and that they are rewarded for it. This results in the child wanting this good feeling and so reinforces their good behavior. It is simple to implement.

To begin with, speak to your son and let him know that you will now start to watch and notice his good behavior. Let him know what you mean by good behavior; that may be good manners, or helping you around the house, or doing as he is told.

If there is a specific behavior that he is presenting, then start only with one specific behavior as it will be too much for him to change everything. Agree on form of behavior that you want him to change then move on to the next.

Ask him to repeat back to you what he has understood what will happen so you are both clear and there is no confusion for him. Show your son this chart and put it somewhere where he can see it so he can see his own progress.

•Make a chart on the wall and for each day of the week whenever he does something good, draw a star on the chart. The chart should be broken down into the seven days of the week and then again into morning, afternoon and evening.

•Then make an agreement with your son that if he does, for example, three good things a day for three days, he will get another reward such as an afternoon at the park or playing with his friends. This will encourage him to keep up the good behavior more continuously bi idhn illah.

•Whenever your son does what you have agreed, make a big fuss of him and give him lots of extra kisses, cuddles and treats that he enjoys like going out or simply spending time with you and add a star or even better let him draw it on. Also, make sure that you tell his father also that he has been well behaved and be clear to your son what behavior he is being rewarded for. All of this must be done when he is present so he notices that you see his good behavior in the family to reinforce it.

•If your son succeeds in these targets, then you must stick to your agreement and reward him as he deserves. But make sure this is not a financial reward; mostly children prefer to have some ‘one – to – one’ time with their parents. Also, it should not cost you anything to teach your children manners and buying expensive gifts to reward good behavior – at this age – will only create a problem for you so it is better to avoid this.

•Over time, you will notice his attention shifts to good behavior only to please you in sha’ Allah and the effect of the reward.

•If your child is naughty, then the way to manage this is to speak to him this time as the parent: there is no agreement – it is a rule that you are setting. Do not negotiate this.

The mistake we often make as parents is that we negotiate certain things with our children that are non-negotiable and so lose our own respect as the adults in the family.

When he breaks this rule, you as well as your husband need to be consistent in your response. If you as parents are not united in your response then it will not work.

•Tell your son that if he does something naughty, then he will be sent to another room where he will sit alone and no one is allowed to speak to him – call it the ‘naughty corner’ so he sees that it is a real place where he will be sent and ensure when he is there the other children do not speak to him either nor is he acknowledged or given any attention.

When he is naughty, do this. If he tries to leave the room, simply send him back but do not speak to him when doing this so he realizes that being naughty means isolation and that you are serious.

•You may find at first that he becomes very noisy and aggressive or rebellious, but these are common tactics to make the parents feel guilty and give up. But as long as he is not in physical danger, do not change your tactic. In sha’ Allah, over time he will make the link that good behavior is rewarded and that naughty behavior is punished.

You say that you have tried to explain to him that Muslims do not behave this way, but this is quite a sophisticated concept for a child. If you want him to connect good behavior to Islam then you need also to show him the personal benefit of that connection and make it relevant to his own life.

You need to break this down clearly and do not be vague and expect him to fill in the gaps; he will not necessarily be able to do this.

Perhaps, you may explain the link to him as follows:

•To be happy, we have to behave

•When we behave, we will get a reward from Allah

•When Allah is happy with you, then mum and dad are happy with you

•When mum and dad are happy with you, they will reward your good behavior as well

•If we want a reward, we have to work for it like anything. For example, when mummy does something that you like, you feel happy with her and you want to give her a hug

•Also, you may like to add; when Mummy is happy with you, Allah is happy with you

•Remind him also that when he is not well behaved, you are not happy with him and that in turn makes him feel unhappy, so it is something he can do to make himself happy

Then, it is helpful to use an example where he has been well behaved and you have rewarded him or he has felt happy and so you and your husband have felt happy with him. Remind him of these times so he can see the reality of what you are saying. You need to repeat this to him a few times over the months and eventually, he will see the point you are making and understand the connection.

As an added tip, I would suggest that whenever you talk to your son, ask him to repeat to you what he has understood from the conversation and that will also help him to remember and let you know that he understands what you want from him.

I would also remind you that your son is only 8 and in many countries, life is very difficult for children; there is little chance for them to play or relax freely as with other children, and there is a great pressure to grow up quickly and take adult responsibilities.

It is important that you still remember that he is a child and that he needs time to relax and play with his friends as all children do. The responsibilities of life will come soon enough so don’t rush him into them without awareness that he still needs love, care, and enjoyment as well. Therefore, make sure that he does have time to do this also.

I understand that it is not easy and it seems from your last email that you do not have much support.

However, there is great reward at the end and in sha’ Allah when your son is older, you will be proud of him and forget how hard it was because you will be enjoying the success of what he has achieved through all the things that you have struggled to teach him. Just focus on the long-term picture and keep him in your du’aa’s.

This is a lot of information to take in, so please do make sure that you understand it and clarify any confusion with me before you implement it. Do not worry; it is actually simple to do and bi idhn illah very effective.

I also suggest that you do read some of the other questions sent to that I and other therapists have responded to regarding shaping children’s behavior and the kind of problem you have mentioned.

There are a few basic rules and it is just a case of being persistent and patient. Do not worry; it is all part of being a parent so not uncommon.

May Allah make easy your time with the children and truly this is why the mother has such a high station in Islam. Sister, when you struggle and feel you have no one to talk to, just remember that Allah sees and appreciates all your efforts and a reward from Him will be incomparable to anything else so do not lose heart.

And Allah knows best.


Disclaimer: The conceptualization and recommendations stated in this response are very general and purely based on the limited information that was provided in the question. You are strongly advised to seek face-to-face counseling and consult your physician or therapist when making a drastic change in your lifestyle in terms of behavior, medication or diet etc.

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About Dr. Feryad Hussain
Dr. Hussain holds a practitioner Doctorate in Clinical Psychology and has worked as a clinical psychologist for a number of years in a range of clinical settings with differing populations in UK. She is author of numerous research articles on health psychology and cross cultural and religious therapy models.