Ramadan has been very different for people this year, especially for families, as routines have changed dramatically because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“The disruption of the usual lifestyle can be especially hard for children,” says Dr Ola Pykhtina, an art and play therapist at Thrive Wellbeing Centre. “They may not be ready to fully understand the reasons of such changes.”
Parents might be finding it difficult to cope, too, she adds, as in the past the holy month was spent socialising, visiting families and having large gatherings at iftar.
With that in mind, The National spoke to a range of experts to find out how parents can make this time as special as possible for their children.
Discover the true meaning of Ramadan
Spiritual connection, tolerance and compassion are just a few of the values that underpin the holy month. At this time, it’s important to have a conversation with your child about the true meaning of Ramadan, says Pykhtina.
“Discuss how this is an opportunity for practising virtues such as self-control, generosity and appreciation – to name but a few,” she suggests. “Even if your family comes from a different religious background, such a discussion may help children develop respect for spiritual traditions and inclusion of diverse belief systems of others.”
Be of service
Zakat, the giving of alms, is one of the five pillars of Islam and is particularly significant during Ramadan. As those around us suffer amid the coronavirus, there are plenty of opportunities to teach children the importance of taking care of others.
“As the science shows, helping others contributes greatly to our own happiness and wellness,” adds Pykhtina. “It may be a good idea to focus on the service rather than a monetary aspect of help. For example, giving responsibility to a child to call a relative to check on them would be a good idea. Some other ideas may include creating puppets and gifting them to a sibling, sorting out plastic and paper for recycling, or even saying a prayer together for someone in need.”
Here are six ways you could donate food to Covid-19 frontline workers as a family.
Connect with your family
It’s not possible to travel and socialise much at the moment, so this is a great chance for parents to connect with their children. Pykhtina suggests some conversation starters to get the ball rolling, such as “the best thing about my family” or “my greatest desire”.
Hafsa Lodi, a mother-of-one, says her one-and-a-half-year-old has been desperate for attention and company. It has helped to connect with extended family members at this time, she says. “We have daily Zoom calls with her young cousins, but those aren’t the same as physical playdates.”
Rachael Lynn, an author of books on personal relationships, says it can be helpful to share your intentions with your children through stories. “Share your feelings and thoughts on this time with your children, recounting your own childhood and how you will connect together this year. This opportunity to celebrate Ramadan at home together may become a memory they cherish forever.”
While Lodi and her husband are fasting, she’s trying to keep her daughter busy throughout the day. “We’ve bought an inflatable pool and try taking her into the water once a day, which she really enjoys, but it’s tough for us to be out in the heat while fasting,” she says.
“Since lockdown restrictions have eased, we’ve started taking her for walks around the neighbourhood an hour before her dinnertime, and she’s enjoying the fresh air and piles of leaves on the floor under trees.”
As a family, they’ve also turned their attentions to a new activity: stair climbing. “Basically, keeping her entertained at home involves walking up and down the staircase with her, over and over again. It seems to be her favourite activity at the moment. At least I’m burning some calories!”
As prayer is essential to Ramadan, the Lodi family tries to perform these together as a group. It’s something her toddler has enjoyed seeing, she says. “She roams around from prayer mat to prayer mat, sometimes copying the positions we are in. She even toddled over to the pile of headscarves the other day and tried putting one on herself.”
It would be easy to hand your child an iPad, laptop or switch on the TV to keep them entertained while you focus on work or preparing iftar, but it’s important that you spend this time together, says Pykhtina.
“Make time to be fully present with your child. It means there will be no phones, laptops or other distractions … What a child needs the most and what they can get only from you is your interest in them and full undivided attention. A trusting relationship is the core of secure attachment, which is the foundation of all positive relationships in your child’s life future.”
Lodi agrees. “We’re trying to limit screen time as much as possible. Instead, [we’re] reading different touch-and-feel baby books with her, but her attention span is short, and this doesn’t usually last more than five minutes.”
Lynn suggests scouring Pinterest for free, printable activities you can do together. “Whether you decide to colour in the 99 names of Allah while discussing their meanings, or print and colour a Ramadan banner to hang in your home, there are so many resources available for free to utilise.”
She advises sharing these with family and friends, who can’t be there in person, via video chat. “It may encourage your little ones to continue doing activities like these because others are joining in with them, too. You can even read Ramadan-related children’s book, Hadiths and watch YouTube stories together this way.”
Katy Rice, owner of Eco Souk Middle East, suggests making your own Ramadan decorations together. “Make some for relatives that you’ll all look back on for years to come, too,” she adds.
This is her easy three-ingredient no-bake salt dough recipe, which can be used to make a few items for around the house:
2 cups of flour
1 cup of salt
1 cup of water
- Mix ingredients together and roll out with a rolling pin, press your favourite cookie cutters in and leave the shapes to dry on a baking sheet overnight.
- Once dry, decorate with your favourite paints, pens and glitter.
Don't forget to write the year on the backside so you can look back on them for years to come.
Order in a Ramadan activity kit
There are a few Ramadan-themed activity kits on the market at the moment. Smart Start Kids, for example, offers a creative box that encourages family members to spend quality time together, connect and discuss traditions and values specific to the holy month.
This includes large cardboard items to assemble and decorate, with five additional arts and crafts activities. This might include painting and decorating a large mosque (that your child can then later play inside), a huge lantern or crescent moon. “You can then discuss with your child or children the spirit of Ramadan, about generosity and the beauty you can find in simple things,” says founder Oana Titica. “The decorated items can also be given as Ramadan presents to family members who will treasure the little one’s work.”
The company’s Ramadan Messy Play kit, meanwhile, offers sensory activities that facilitate exploration and learning, as well as the practicing of fine motor skills for younger children.
Abu Dhabi's Kidz Factory has also created the Kidz Crate Cares, a Ramadan fundraising initiative between the play centre, Dubai Cares and the UAE's Ministry of Education. It's a do-it-yourself activity box that allows children to bake, make pizzas or whip up freakshakes, for example. Part of the proceeds will go towards supplying e-learning devices for those who need them most.
Pykhtina says: “Every spiritual tradition requires us to be kind, forgiving, generous and appreciative. Covid-19 has done just that – given us an opportunity to practise our virtues, reflect and have faith. Be an example for your child by modelling these during Ramadan.
"Making this month beautiful and meaningful for your child requires you to be fully there for them. They may not necessarily remember what the family did during this time, but they will remember their feelings and home atmosphere. We can’t control what happens outside, but we can attempt to take charge of what happens in our hearts, minds and in our homes.”