The usual scene at taraweeh is children running around in the prayer area, tweens in the hallways, and teens in the parking lot. At the masjid I'm attending, the imām said some very wise things: Taraweeh is sunnah, while looking after and protecting your children is fard. He urged the fathers to watch the children while the mothers prayed and then switch so that fathers could pray while the moms watched their kids, emphasizing that both genders' ibadah is just as important. The issue wasn't to not bring the kids to the masjid but to make it a positive experience for them.
“Why did you bring your children here?” he asked rhetorically, his voice shaking with emotion, “To give them an Islamic foundation and experience this blessed environment. Help us give that to them.”
Well, they weren't getting much of that wrestling outside the facility or stuffing toilet paper into the bathroom stalls, or hooking up in the parking lot. I love seeing kids in the masjid – I really think for the future of the deen, our masājid need to be extremely family friendly.
All of this was happening even though the community put together two separate, free, age-appropriate child care stations with activities (wo)manned by the young women of the community and not just the usual 'a ton of children running around babysitting,' which leads me to say this: we often complain that the masjid doesn't do enough for the community, but sometimes the community doesn't do enough for the masjid.
All it takes is for one child to get hurt or injured and the whole place could be shut down. (Although I have to say there is a special rahmah during Ramadan when so many kids are doing the most crazy stuff I have ever witnessed and none of them get hurt – it must be the angels!)
Some parents make it work – they have the well-behaved kids in the masjid who make you smile and say māshā'Allāh. Here are some things that they do which may help. Most of the following suggestions aren't for babies – babies cry, it's normal, and we need to learn to deal with it.
- Most importantly, Ramadan and taraweeh should be planned for ahead of time so we actively participate in Ramadan instead of Ramadan falling upon us. It should be the culmination of our year as a family.
- Plan your stays at the iftars and tareweehs. Talk to your kids ahead of time about what will happen and what the timeline will be. Give them a “social hour” to meet and greet their friends before ṣalāh starts. Make a rule that after ṣalāh they need to be in the musallah. Bring some quiet activities like coloring books and books for older kids.
- If you are going to take your children, make sure that they are fed. You are fasting, but your younger kids are not fasting. Kids start becoming very anxious/cranky if they haven't been fed properly. Make sure that they are satiated so they are not bugging you while you are opening your iftar or praying. Take small, non-messy snacks with you.
- Let your children know what you expect from them. Sometimes they don't know what is expected and follow the crowd. Also, if the kids haven't been inside a masjid all year long they may have forgotten what happens during taraweeh. It is even harder for kids whose parents have never been to the masjid. My husband says just because you went on Hajj last year and now you have starting coming to taraweeh doesn't mean that your 9 year old who has never been to a masjid knows how to behave at a masjid. You will have to be patient and teach them. Going to the masjid is important for their identity, but don't expect them to learn immediately proper behavior there.
- Ask your friends to kid-pool during taraweeh: you watch their kids while they pray and they watch yours. If there are enough of you, everyone can get a good chunk of taraweeh during the month.
- Your tweens/teens need you to step up. Make their 'Īd presents dependent on their behavior during taraweeh. Have them leave their gadgets at home or in the car. Use all your best parenting tricks that you use for good grades in school NOW.
- Get them excited about worship. Talk about the themes/meanings that will be read at taraweeh before heading out. Tell them about the reward of taraweeh. Make up a game for the younger ones. We talk about how many “zombies” we “kicked” by praying – it's a bit unconventional but boys like games.
- Show some respect. If you know that your children will need to use the bathroom multiple times or will roll around in front of the musallis, pray in the back or sides. The elders who have already raised their children deserve some quality time. It's easy to take children to the bathroom from the back rows and to check on the older ones.
- Be a role model. Don't be chit-chatting during the ṣalāh, in the halls, in the bathrooms and then expect the kids not to follow suit.
- Turn to them after each set and give them a smile, a pat on the back, a look of love, telling them immediately that you appreciate their patience and stillness. Tell them that they are surrounded by angels and that you love them for the sake of Allāh. Other adults should do this too. In my opinion, this goes further than anything else.
- Stay home if you cannot control them or if the experience is so bad that it would make them run away from the religion (yes some masjid experiences can do that), especially if it smells really bad, is extremely hot and crammed.
- Take their sleeping bags or a favorite blanket with you so if they are sleepy they can lie down next to you.
- Reward them with a small treat if they behaved or read (stayed by your side) ṣalāh. Positive reinforcement makes for positive memories.
- There are so many huffadh in our communities that maybe you can host taraweeh in your own homes with smaller gatherings. This can complete your ibadah and also give your small children the convenience of being in their own homes.
- Don't give up! If you are in charge or know someone in charge, try to announce the names of the kids who were really well behaved after each taraweeh. There is nothing like good 'ol competition and recognition. It gets people's attention more than the “parents please control your kids” announcements.
I would love to hear from tweens and teens on how taraweeh can become a more positive experience for them as well. Please feel free to add your suggestions in comments!