How did Prophet Muhammad set an example in dealing with children?
Children are God's gifts which bring joy to the hearts and blessings to the souls of those around them. Children require special attention and the utmost care to raise them in hopes of them becoming beneficial and productive citizens. Some people might take the strict approach of harshly educating their children and preventing them from falling into simple mishaps and trivial pitfalls. This strict and confined environment works as a stumbling block against the child's natural curiosity and his inner zeal to discover the world in his own terms. Some parents lean towards an intentional deprivation of their child of any emotional feelings out of fear of spoiling their children. The Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) refused such a harsh approach as he recognized the psychological need of all children to feel love. Despite his busy schedule he worked hard to show his love to children, this was a lesson that caring for children can also be done while running our tight schedules.
For example, upon arriving in Medinah, the Prophet Muhammad was received by the elite people of Medinah along with men and women who were eagerly waiting for his blessed arrival. Among the huge crowd that lined up to welcome the long awaited Prophet were the children of Medinah who broke out in singing and praising the Prophet. The Prophet Muhammad turned towards them, smiling and gave them his undivided attention. He went up to them with a smile on his face and asked them, "Do you love me?" The children out of joy and excitement said, “Yes, yes! We love and respect you O Messenger of God.” The Prophet replied “And I also love you all.” The children were delighted!
The Prophet Muhammad taught us how to treat with gentleness and kindness. People usually find it pleasing to themselves to cuddle, hold, kiss, hug and carry around these bundles of joy until they do something smelly and leaky in their diaper. As soon as that happens, some people immediately scrunch up their nose in disgust and hand them over to the mother or nanny to clean them up. However, this was not what the Prophet did in such a situation. He would often hold infants, even though in that era there were no leak-proof diapers. Lady Aisha narrated: “A boy was brought to the Prophet to do tahnik (touching the lips of the child with a fresh date) for him, but the boy urinated on him, whereupon the Prophet had water poured on the place of urine” (Al-Bukhari). The Prophet Muhammad refrained from expressing disgust even though the baby urinated on his clothing. This indicates his exemplary level of tolerance for babies’ natural phases, as it is normal for newborns to urinate often.
Following the Prophet's path, we should not get irritated at the natural messes that babies tend to make (such as nose emissions, excreta, or regurgitated milk), even if they create a mess or filthy our garments or furniture. We should also help clean up the mess without considering it beneath our social dignity to do so. As babies grow older and become active and energetic toddlers, we need to raise our level of patience and understanding for the new phase they have now entered. The Prophet Muhammad is a leading example of welcoming children into his mosque even though they usually caused noise and disturbances. Reported by Abdullah ibn Shaddad from his father: “The Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him) came out to lead us in either maghrib or ‘isha’ prayer one night, and he was carrying Hassan or Husain. The Messenger of God came forward and put (the child) down, then he said “God is the Greatest” and started to pray. During the prayer, he prostrated and made his prostration long. My father said: “I raised my head and I saw the child on the back of the Messenger of God whilst he was prostrating, so I returned to my prostration.” When the Messenger of God finished praying, the people said: “O Messenger of God, during your prayer you prostrated for so long that we thought something had happened or that you were receiving Revelation.” He said: Nothing at all happened, but my son was on my back and I did not wish to disturb him until he had had enough” (An-Nisa’i).
This hadith is another great example of how tolerant the Prophet was regarding children’s behavior.
When a child becomes older i.e. beyond the age of 6-7, he or she reaches the age of understanding right from wrong. When he encountered a child doing something the wrong way, the Prophet would gently and concisely correct them and explain to them how to do it right, without scolding harshly or making them feel humiliated in front of others. Umar ibn Abu Salamah reported: “I was a boy under the care of the Messenger of God, and as my hand used to wander around in the dish, he once said to me: "O son, mention God's Name (i.e., say Bismillah), eat with your right hand, and eat from what is in front of you" (Al-Bukhari and Muslim).
By regularly reading and studying the Prophet’s loving and mild behavior with children, we can prevent ourselves from treating children in a manner that could displease God and ruin our relationship with them in the long term. The Prophet kissed Al-Hasan ibn `Ali while Al-Aqra` ibn Habis At-Tamim was sitting with him. Al-Aqra` said, “I have ten children and have never kissed one of them.” The Prophet cast a look at him and said: “Whoever is not merciful to others will not be treated mercifully” (Bukhari). Lady Aisha narrated that a bedouin approached the Prophet and said: "You (people) kiss the boys! We don't kiss them." The Prophet said: "I cannot put mercy in your heart after God has taken it away from it" (Bukhari).
Please take heed to what the Prophet of God has shown us through his own example. It is a sunnah to show love and care to children! It is a sunnah to cuddle and hold your baby! It is sunnah to kiss your son or your daughter. Children bring joy, they are a mercy and a gift from God as they bring blessings to their families, and soften even the hardest of hearts. This is their contribution to society and we should love them for it.
Importantly, we must love our children because the little ones best understand the language of love. The Prophet said that he would shorten the prayer if he heard a baby crying, as he did not want to distress the baby's mother. On other occasions, he prayed with a child in his arms, lifting it as he stood up for each unit of prayer and putting the child down as he went into prostration. This was how tender he was with babies.
This was how much he loved children. He was tolerant and forgave the little mistakes they made. He played with them, gave them rides on his camel and then fed them dates. He knew babies were curious and liked to explore new things. One baby played with the seal of Prophethood between his shoulders, her father was annoyed with her. What was the Prophet's response? Well, he told her father to leave her alone, not to scold her and then he blessed the baby by praying for her to have a long life.
Muhammad used to care for orphans and he used to ask his companions to protect them and to treat them well. He also showed the merits that come from this. Al-Bukhari narrated that Prophet Muhammad said: "I and the custodian of an orphan are like this (together) in Paradise", and he joined his forefinger and middle finger together. Ibn Majah also narrated on the authority of Abu Huraira that Prophet Muhammad said: "The best Muslim house is one in which an orphan is well treated; and the worst Muslim house is one in which an orphan is badly treated." These Prophetic hadiths show clearly that if someone takes good care of an orphan, he is sure to enter paradise.
Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) was a role model in caring for children and he taught us how to treat them and how to express love and joy for the gift of having them. It is our obligation to learn how best to treat children and to incorporate these teachings in our own life.