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Supporting Our Children’s Mental And Emotional Well-Being

The topic of mental health is still taboo in the Muslim community. Sadly, I know of five Muslims who recently took their own lives after suffering from mental illness for many years. These tragedies are often misunderstood and families of these victims of mental illness are left reeling alone in their grief coupled by the painful judgment of people who scorn these victims.

We need to bring this topic out of the darkness and shine a light on the facts. Mental illness is a disease. It can be treated, but with varying outcomes. Often times, it is a lifelong battle that despite even the most aggressive treatment and support of family members, victims succumb to their illness by withdrawing from loved ones, suffering in silence and, in the worst cases, ending their lives. Mental illness is often hereditary or can be brought on by life circumstances.

As parents, we should facilitate healthy emotional wellbeing in our children as a way to help arm them against the inevitable hardships they will face in life. While for some children even our best efforts will be futile against a genetic predisposition toward depression or a severe biological mental illness condition, we still need to do our part by being conscious of caring for this aspect of our children. We are so concerned about how our kids are developing academically and in their deen, but we forget about their feelings. We need to make certain our tactics and efforts gear our children toward developing a healthy mindset and positive self-esteem. For some, this armor can be a shield during times of difficulty. If our efforts at home are not helping, know when to seek help from a mental health provider. There is great wisdom in reaching out to professionals who can better assess what your child might be experiencing.

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The US Department of Health and Human Services stated that the number of adolescents who experience at least one major depressive episode leapt by 60 percent between 2010-2016. Suicide deaths among people age 10-19 have also risen sharply according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Our children are of a generation where they are programmed for instant gratification, parents tend to swoop in and solve problems instantly for their children, attention span is short, and they are constantly connected to the digital world with everything at their fingertips immediately. The result of this modern lifestyle in our children is that they are not learning to be resilient and they no longer learn to develop a natural ability to persevere, to have the ability to keep working toward goals despite setbacks and failures.  

So, how can we better raise our children to be able to operate at their optimal in today’s world, to have emotional strength and resilience? Here are a few tips and strategies I’ve compiled over the years from multiple sources that can help build confident children who know how to deal with today’s challenges:

Make Salah Part of Your Child’s Life: Allah swt will bless the lives of those who pray their daily prayers and your child will develop God-consciousness through this act. Teach your child to ask Allah for help daily. Pray with your children and remind them to pray. The gift of Salah was given to our prophet (pbuh) during one of the toughest years of his life, the passing of his uncle Abu Talib and his wife Khadija, and the severe persecution of Muslims. The act of prayer is a reminder to Muslims to turn to Allah swt during times of hardship.

Make Dua: By reciting the duas for everything from studying for test, to playing a game, to driving a car, to leaving the house, we are constantly remembering Allah swt. This is another way children find strength in their daily activities. By connecting all of our actions with Allah swt, we find support and strength in our Creator.

Let Them Go Outside and Play: Unplug your children and send them outside to play. Today’s youth spend on average just four to seven minutes outside each day in unstructured outdoor play such as climbing trees, building forts, catching bugs or playing tag, studies show. Yet, many children spend 3-4 hours each day in front of a screen. In recent years, the National Wildlife Federation released a comprehensive report showing the unique benefits of playing outside on mental health.  

Participate in Afterschool Clubs/Activities: Having children participate in a team sport or club where they have to interact with a group of individuals to achieve a goal builds confidence and promotes teamwork. These interactions teach children how to express themselves, how to take critical feedback, and how to accept failure. They learn that sometimes they might lead the group and sometimes they will fall in line and have to be a participant of the group. Kids learn how each person is part of the overall success of the group or team. This is especially important as we are living in a time when everything is “I” – IPhones, iMacs, iPads. We need to teach children more about “WE”!!!   

                                                                                                                                                           

Let Children Help Around the House: Stop doing everything for your kids. Let them clean the dinner table, put the dishes in the sink, throw away the garbage, make their bed, clean their room, put their homework in their backpack, etc… Children will not learn to be independent and self-functioning when everything is done for them.  

Stop Overpraising Your Child: A recent study done by Stanford University of toddlers showed that praising effort, not talent, leads to greater motivation and more positive attitudes toward challenges down the road. These findings are consistent with previous research, which has connected praise with increased motivation in children, but only when it is based on real attributes. Consider these making these alternative statements:

  • Instead of saying “You are so smart!” say “You work so hard in school and it shows.”
  • Instead of saying “You always get good grades. It makes me happy!” say “When you put forth effort, your grades show it. You should be so proud of yourself and I am proud of you.”
  • Instead of saying “You are a great athlete! You could be the next LeBron James!” say “Keep practicing and you will continue to see great results. Good Job!”

Let Them Fail: This does not mean let your kids fail a class. Encourage your children to try new hobbies or activities, like an art project, a sport, or trying to learn how to rollerblade. Kids who can’t tolerate failure are vulnerable to anxiety and this can lead to bigger problems when they do inevitably fail. Children need to know that it’s ok to fail as this will happen throughout their lives. They need to know that it is a brave act to try something new, knowing that it might not work out. Shielding children from failure can create a fragile sense of self-worth. Being able to recover from any setback will be a valuable tool in their life. Help them to reframe the way they view failure by suggesting new ways to assess the experience, such as:

  • If your child says “I’m so stupid” teach them to instead ask themselves, “What was I missing in that assignment?” or “What could I have studied more?”
  • Instead of “I’m not good at math (or any other subject)” – encourage them to say “I’m going to train harder in math (or any subject)”
  • Instead of “This is too hard” – help them instead to see the obstacle as “This is going to take some time and effort”
  • Instead of “I give up” – teach your child to say “I’m going to try again but this time I’ll use another strategy”
  • Instead of saying “I made a mistake” – instead say, “Mistakes help me improve.”

Teach Your Kids How to Express Themselves: Having daily conversations with your child and letting them talk helps children to know you value their thoughts. Individuals who bottle up emotions and don’t talk about their feelings are more likely to struggle with emotional wellness. Learning to identify and express emotions in a positive and healthy way helps young children build astrong foundation of success later in life.

Encourage Your Children to be Active, Exercise and Make Healthy Food Choices: This is another developmental area that we have to be careful how we use our words. Even physicians don’t use the words “obesity” and “overweight” with kids. Instead, talk about health in general. Say things like “Being healthy is important,” and “I enjoy getting outside and walking with you.” If your child brings up to you his or her discomfort with how they look, listen to what they have to say and offer solutions for how your entire family can improve their health and make healthy choices. When the entire family makes healthy choices, a child doesn’t feel singled out and he or she will feel supported in efforts to be healthy. Children are sensitive about their body image and what others think of them, especially in preteen years but even as early as age 6.  Develop healthy eating and exercise habits as a family even with your young children. Even very young children can develop low self-esteem about how they look. Make a habit of getting your kids moving for 30-60 minutes daily when they get home from school. Teach them to make better choices regarding food.

Community Service: Teach your children to share and help others.  Research shows individuals who help others and do community service are happier than others who don’t. Spend time as a family volunteering at a soup kitchen, cleaning the park together, or attending a social justice rally. Allah swt will always help a servant who takes care of His creation.

Show Love to your Children: Kids need to feel and hear how much their parents love them. Hugging and showing affection to your children is crucial for children in building a positive self-concept. Fathers, especially, make an extra effort to show affection toward both your sons and daughters.    

Do Not Buy Them Everything They Want: Life is not easy.  If children are always receiving every gift they want, they don’t learn to value even the most basic necessities in life. Mashallah, many parents who are financially well off want to give their kids what they did not have but this can take away the drive of children to work hard and appreciate hard work and gifts.

Build Good Character in Your Children Starting When They are Young:  If you instill good behavior and model good behavior yourself starting when your children are young, they are more likely to naturally develop good character. Learning to control one’s anger, to respect elders, to say please and thank you, to share, and take care of guests are all acts children must begin learning very young.   These selfless acts help children to know that life is not just about them.    

Teach Patience: Allah reminds us that Allah is with those who are patient. Life is full of ups and downs in health, wealth, family and more. All of us will be tested in at least one of these areas. Help your children realize solutions are not always going to be instant. Sometimes resolutions will take time.   

Finally and most importantly, if you see your child or family member really struggling, Get HELP!  Going to a therapist, counselor, or psychiatrist is not wrong and can be life-saving. I have seen adults not receive help because of what people would say or because families discount the severity of a person’s symptoms, telling him or her that their emotional issues are because they lack imaan or that it’s black magic. Certainly seek spiritual help but, at the same time, get help from medical specialists who Allah created to help people suffering with mental illness. There are medications that can help treat mental diseases and counseling that can help alleviate suffering.  May Allah guide us and protect us all and grant us the ability to have compassion for those suffering from any illness.

NOTE: Many thanks to MCCA School Counselor Dr. Samar Harfi, PsyD., for her oversight and contributions to the content of this article.

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Habeeb Quadri is the MCC Academy Superintendent and Chairman of Muslim Youth of North America Advisory Board. He was one of five private school leaders to be selected for the 2019 class of nationally distinguished principals by the National Association of Elementary School Principals.

6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Jovariya

    January 4, 2018 at 11:29 PM

    This was a wonderful read! Jazakullah khair for sharing it! It’s very difficult sharing the struggles of living with a mental illness because it makes us feel vulnerable, but its something that needs to be discussed because so many Muslims are struggling with depression and don’t understand it or have access to the resources to heal themselves, so these tips for parents are helpful. However, having a professional involved is important, because whenever I discussed my depression (sort of indirectly) with someone who couldn’t relate or understand it, it felt like they dismissed it or believed that I was a weak person. Parents should pay attention if they notice their children being more reclusive or seem to be sad most of the time and seek help. I have been able to hide this illness from many people, because I’m usually described as a happy and positive person, so it’s an illness that can be hard to identify. Although when my depression was worst I would force myself to go out, sometimes it helped and other times it just made me feel worst. Alhamdulillah, praying and Islam itself has helped me tremendously coping with it, however depression is still there lurking in the background thats why seeking resources to heal it is absolutely essential. It’s a constant (daily) battle, I wish I didn’t have to deal with it, but alhamdullilah I am looking forward to a happy ending inshallah :)

  2. Avatar

    Amatullah

    January 8, 2018 at 5:26 AM

    This was an amazing read! SubhanAllah
    may Allah bless you for writing this. I was only wondering how to make sure my child grows into a not-only-righteous but also a healthy and responsible individual

  3. Avatar

    Monique Hassan

    January 8, 2018 at 4:20 PM

    Mental health is my field of specialty, it is all too sad and real that so many within the ummah from depression or anxiety etc. and often do not seek treatment or do not understand what it is.

    This is a great article that explores practical and real world advice. Our children need us to show them the best examples and be a real part of their lives. Pray with them, play with them, create with them, listen to them. They grow up before we know it.
    :-) Jazaki Allah Khairan

  4. Avatar

    Umm

    January 14, 2018 at 9:24 PM

    I just sent a private message to MM….please guide me by answering my question. If shayookh here can help or if u can pleaseeeeeee fwd my message to sh Yasir qadhi…birjas or walked basyouni….

    I’m desperately waiting for an answer. Please help

    • Aly Balagamwala

      Aly Balagamwala

      January 17, 2018 at 6:29 AM

      Dear Umm

      Where did you send this message? My advice to you would be to approach these scholars through their respective Facebook pages as it would be faster and more private for you.

      Best Regards
      Aly
      Comments Team Lead

  5. Avatar

    Hannah

    January 18, 2018 at 5:52 PM

    The mental health of children is very important. Parents must always listen to their children so that the children feel that their opinions, concerns and worries are worth considering. Parents must also protect their children from outside influences which seek to psychologically abuse or corrupt them. I say this a person who was very subtly psychologically abused by teachers as a child of 11/12 until I was 15. They did everything to make me feel unwelcome and as an outsider in school. I began skipping school and my education suffered. I wanted to move school but my mother said that I was just being paranoid so I stayed at that particular school for too long. At school gatherings some of the teachers would stare at me and smirks to each other and make snide comments. I developed anxiety and psychological problems later in life. I believe they will get their just desserts but you must be careful who you entrust with your children. Sometimes those who are supposed to nurture them can end up destroying them. It is the mental scars which are sometimes harder to heal than physical ones.

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#Life

What Repentance Can Teach You About Success

When losing weight, one piece of advice you’ll hear often is the following – if you fall off your eating plan one day, pick yourself back up and think of the next day as a fresh start.

Annoying, isn’t it?

You’ll hear this advice from people who have “made it” – they’ve lost a lot of weight, their lives have changed, and they’ll tell you to stick through it, and you’ll be like, yeah, I have, I tried, and I keep failing. I keep trying, I can’t sustain the motivation, I have life factors, I have stuff going on that makes this difficult.

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And you’re right.

You don’t have millions of dollars, a dedicated personal trainer and chef, the free time and lack of commitments others do, the lack of sleep, the injuries, or personal life circumstances that advantage others, nor do they have those that disadvantage you.

That’s not the point.

When you make a mistake, if you run through the process of regret, repentance, and retrying to do the right thing, Allah (swt) is pleased with you. And if you keep failing, repenting, and trying again, and again, and again, until you die, Allah keeps forgiving you.

The process of both recognizing your weakness, of getting out of denial, and humbling yourself and not thinking yourself so high and mighty has its own sobering effect. Not only does it help you in dealing with that atom’s weight of arrogance you don’t want to meet Allah (swt) with on the Day of Judgment, it helps make you a better human being, a more compassionate one, a more empathetic one, when calling others away from mistakes.

I’m not perfect, and you’re not perfect. Perfection is only for Allah (swt). But we’re trying. And the process of recognizing your weakness and at least attempting to rectify it means that maybe you’ll sin a little less, maybe you’ll still not invent excuses for mistakes and you’ll teach others, “Hey man, I know this is a sin, I know this is wrong, I hope you can do better than me.” And maybe they do change, and you’re both better for it.

Maybe in trying and failing again and again, what you end up doing is coming a little bit closer to success, and that process of trying and failing is the teacher you needed to get you out of your weakness and to then help others do likewise. Maybe that learning process serves you in succeeding elsewhere down the road in other treacherous turns and trials of life.

Whether it’s in losing weight, fixing broken relationships, pulling away from a heavy nafs addiction (eg pornography), don’t ever put yourself mentally in a position where “you’ve lost” and “you may as well give up” because “there’s no hope for me”. Don’t identify yourself by your failures.

So then, what is the point?

The point isn’t that you hit your goal perfectly. The point is that give your best, even with the little that you have, and that is good enough for you and for all of us. Ask Allah (swt) to help you better yourself, and in these 10 Days of Dhul-Hijjah, increase in your du’a, cry to Him for help, in whatever area of life it is you’re trying to improve.

And whatever you fail at, don’t fall off for weeks on end. Acknowledge your mistake, own it completely and take full responsibility. Try to figure out where you went wrong in your process, get help from others if you need to. Forgive yourself, and don’t resign yourself to an identity based on your mistakes.

Never get tired of failing, getting knocked down, and picking yourself back up and trying to do and be better again.

It’s always a brand new day tomorrow.

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30 Khawaatir in 30 Days- A Parent’s Guide | Day 19: My Mercy Encompasses All Things

Now that we have learnt about when the angels surround us, let’s now talk about how Allah’s subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) mercy encompasses all things.

We say بِسْمِ اللَّـهِ الرَّحْمَـٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ  (bismillah Ar-Rahman ar-Raheem) a lot, right? It means ‘in the Name of Allah, the Most Merciful, the Most Compassionate.’ 

We say it when we pray, before we eat, and we’re encouraged to say it before we begin any new task. But do we really understand what rahma (mercy) means? 

Question: What do you think rahma means?

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Do you know that the word rahma comes from the root word, رحم (rahim), which means womb? 

Question: Who can tell me what a womb is?

That’s right. A baby is usually in their mommy’s womb for 40 weeks. The baby gets all the nourishment it requires; the temperature in the womb is perfect, the nutrients are always administered, it is safe and warm. All the baby has to do is grow, and alhamdulillah all its needs are being met. 

Question: How do you think the womb relates to Allah’s subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) mercy?

Allah’s subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) mercy is constantly surrounding us like a safety net. That doesn’t mean that we’ll never experience any pain, but Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is constantly showing us mercy with every breath we take. Even blinking is a mercy from Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) that we don’t even have to think about. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) even has more mercy for us than a mother has for her own child! 

One day the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was walking with a group of his companions, and they passed by a woman who was frantically looking for her child. She would take any child to her breast and try to feed him/her. Then the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said to the companions: “Do you think that this lady can throw her son in the fire?” We replied, “No, if she has the power not to throw it (in the fire).” The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) then said, “Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is more merciful to His slaves than this lady to her son.”

And guess what? There’s even more mercy in the hereafter than we’re experiencing right now. 

Salman al-Farisi reported: The Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “Verily, on the day Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) created the heavens and earth, He created one hundred parts of mercy. Each part can fill what is between heaven and earth. He made one part of mercy for the earth, from it a mother has compassion for her child, animals and birds have compassion for each other. On the Day of Resurrection, He will perfect this mercy.” [Sahih Muslim]

99 parts of mercy on the Day of Judgment! That is one reason why it’s so important to have a good opinion of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He)! Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) even tells us in Surat Al-A’raaf:

وَرَحْمَتِي وَسِعَتْ كُلَّ شَيْءٍ ۚ

“My mercy encompasses all things” (Surat Al-A’raaf; 156]

And you all, my dears, are all encompassed by Allah’s subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) mercy, alhamdulillah. 

 

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30 Khawaatir in 30 Days- A Parent’s Guide | Day 18: When the Angels Surround Us

Now that we have learnt about Hajar raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) and her sa’i, let’s now talk about when the angels surround us.

Do you know that every time we sit together and remember Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), we are not alone in our meeting? We have very special visitors, and these visitors love to hear us praising Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He)and thanking Him. 

Question: Who can tell me who these visitors are?

Yes! They are angels! Can anyone name some angels for me?

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We have Angel Jibril 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) who has delivered every message to every Prophet since the beginning of time. We also have our angels on our left and right who write down our deeds.

Question: Does anyone know the name of the angel that is in control of the weather? 

His name is Angel Mikai’l. 

There are so many gifts that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) grants us when we gather together and remember him. Four things happen every single time! I want you to pay close attention to this hadith, because I’m going to ask you what those four things are after I read it. 

Are you ready?

‏لا يقعد قوم يذكرون الله عز وجل إلا حفتهم الملائكة، وغشيتهم الرحمة ونزلت عليهم السكينة، وذكرهم الله فيمن عنده‏

The Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said: “When a group of people assemble for the remembrance of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), the angels surround them (with their wings), (Allah’s) mercy envelops them, tranquility descends upon them, and Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) makes a mention of them before those who are near Him.”

Question: Can you believe that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) makes mention of your name when you make mention of His? What do you think it means when “tranquility descends upon us?” Do you feel how calm your heart is? 

That is a gift from Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) and He tells us that our hearts find rest in His remembrance:

أَلَا بِذِكْرِ اللَّـهِ تَطْمَئِنُّ الْقُلُوبُ

“…Unquestionably, by the remembrance of Allah hearts are assured” [Surah Ar-Ra’d; 28] 

 

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