How I encouraged my son to start fasting this Ramadan

Arts editor Samia Badih writes about her child's first fast and how setting small goals helped him achieve big ones

Samia Badih with her son Samih in Abu Dhabi. This year Samih, 8, fasted for the first time. Courtesy Samia Badih
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This Ramadan has been unlike any other for my family. To start, it's the first time we've marked the occasion during a global pandemic – so it has been strange and a little more difficult.

But, it's also the first time my eldest son has fasted.

My son Samih is 8, and at his age, we thought fasting from sunrise to sunset would be too much. "No food and drink? No treat? No thank you," we imagined would be his response.

So my husband and I asked him if he would like to try fasting for half the day with us – starting from the second part of the day and fasting until sunset.

As he gets ready to go to bed, his good nights now come with suhoor requests: 'Baba, can I have a turkey sandwich and my favourite cookie when you wake me up?'

It's something our parents did to encourage us to fast when we were little and is a way to allow children to experience Ramadan without it being too hard. Year on year, they can add on a little more fasting time, until they're old enough and ready to fast through Ramadan properly.

"So, what if I get super duper hungry?" my son asked me when we introduced the idea.

"Then you eat," I answered him. "But I don't want to," he answered.

He knew it was going to be a challenge, but he also really wanted to prove that he was a big boy.

We decided that night that we would let him try to be like "the big boys", promising that his dad would wake him up for suhoor to have lots of water and an early breakfast and that for iftar I would prepare his favourite dish: a green pea stew.

I'm not sure if it was the fact that the first day of Ramadan happened to be a Friday when he was playing with his younger brother the whole day, or that we're staying home and so aren't out in the heat, but his first day went by smoothly.

And, to both his father's surprise and mine, he opted to fast for the whole time, without any complaints.

Once he saw he could do it, we couldn't convince him otherwise.

But to make it more exciting for him, we started setting some rewards, even small ones, which he got for every week he completed: a gift, a book or a dessert that he really liked.

We also asked his younger sibling to be mindful of his brother's fasting, and not eat and drink in front of him.

Now, almost three weeks in, Samih looks forward to his suhoors and iftars with the family.

Every day at around 6pm, he rolls into the kitchen to start help setting the table and says: "What's for iftar today? I smell something yummy."

As a parent, could I ask for a better compliment?

And, as he gets ready to go to bed, his good nights are now accompanied with suhoor requests: "Baba, can I have a turkey sandwich and my favourite cookie when you wake me up?"

What I've learned from this experience is that by taking it slow and setting small achievable goals for our child, we have seen him go beyond our expectations and his.

I think our Ramadan has only gotten better as we practice this ritual with him.

I'm a mum to three boys, Samih is the eldest, so can you imagine what our Ramadans are going to be like when all the little boys want to be "big boys"?

But, I look forward to those days. There's something special about going through the fast as a family together, and so I am thankful they are on the horizon: but only when the boys decide they are ready.