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Wednesday 6 February 2013

Changing Children's Attitudes and Behaviours

In this article, I aim to give a brief insight into understanding behaviours, in order for parents to Islamically raise up children and/or change their behaviours to an Islamic one.

The theory goes that a person is born with a set of inherited emotions that stays with him throughout his life. This is called personality. Whereas attitudes are gained through learning which represents the mental or thinking side of him. These attitudes can stay the same by reinforcement of old experiences or can change through new experiences. Taken together, personality and attitude form a person's behaviour.

What this means is that, since personality is inherited, we cannot change a person's personality. But, we can change a person's overall behaviour by changing his attitudes. Since attitudes represents our thinking and since our thinking controls our emotions, it follows that if we can change his attitudes then we can change his behaviours. (Note that when we are in a traumatic situation, our emotions control our thinking - we are no longer rational).

For example, when a child displays violent behaviours such as verbally or physically abusing someone, we seek to change his attitudes and not his personality. In this situation, his violent behaviours could be from his personality or from his attitudes, or both. But as was pointed out above, the key to changing behaviours is to change attitudes. Now to do so we must find the source of his current attitudes, snip that source in the bud and provide alternative sources of the new attitude.

Before we go further we need to understand another theory: modelling. Modelling is when a person learns from a particular source. When this happens the person takes on those attitudes of the source, or model, and incorporates them into his own behaviours. So if the model teaches affectionate behaviours, the person will also display affectionate behaviours. Similarly, if the model display aggressive behaviours the person will also display aggressive behaviours. Thus in modelling, the model influences the person.

In the case of a child who displays 'bad' and 'un-Islamic' behaviours, we must identify the possible models in order to rectify the behaviour. Take the example from above whose child is violent. Models could include friends, school, hobbies, sports, movies, singers, books, magazines, internet and also family members. We must determine which are the ones that are teaching him these bad attitudes. Once we have found it, we cut it at the source. That is, separate the child from the model. We then provide Islamic models such as Prophet Muhammad (s), all the prophets (a), companions (r) and Muslim heros. We give him books, magazines and videos about these people, we provide him with Muslim friends and we encourage him to attend Islamic camps and other Islamic gatherings.

By providing these alternative models we are teaching and reinforcing virtuous Islamic attitudes. Over time, if he is constantly surrounded by these models, and with Allah's will, he will begin to adopt and adapt to these new models. In this way his behaviour will be changed.

This is why it is so important to monitor the friends your child plays with, the school he goes to, the hobbies he does, the sports he plays, the movies he watches, what he reads and listens to, and to teach him good manners and behaviours through Islamic models.

The bottom line of all these theories is that, at an early age (even as a baby) we must provide Islamic models for our children because they learn from these models and form their behaviours around them. Witness the child who watches TV all the time and has a favourite movie star. He copies exactly this movie star's attitudes and behaviours: he dresses that way, he talks that way and he acts that way.

This is the problem with most 'Muslim teenagers' nowadays. They lack the proper Islamic models, people who they can respect and imitate. This deficiency arises because adults are not providing them with these models. As a result they spend their time watching movies and sports and listening to music, hoping to find people who they can look up to. Once they have found that special someone, they will soak up the person's attitudes and hence, the person's behaviours.

I stress once again, that it is our duty to provide our children with Islamic models. We must saturate their lives with it. Have our libraries filled with stories of Muslim prophets and heros. Find time to tell them these stories, no matter how old our children are. All children of all ages need heros. Once they have a love for these people then you will find that our children will want to be just like them and as a result, they will think and act like them.

Why do we want our children to think and act like these people? Because they are among the virtuous, they enjoin what is good and forbid what is wrong. They live their lives for Islam because they love Allah (swt). Is this not what we want for our children?

Before I end this article, I would like to remind everyone that the best role model that we can provide for our children is Prophet Muhammad (s). As Allah (swt) says:
Indeed in the Messenger of Allah (Muhammad) you have the best example to follow for him who hopes in (the meeting with) Allah and the Last Day and remembers Allah much. (Quran, Al-Ahzab 33:21).

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