The best way to teach in general and to teach children in particular is by example, and this is the way of Sayyidina Muhammad (peace be upon him and his family). A household where a child grows and sees that prayer is observed, given due priority and importance, and an entire ethos around prayer is established is an ideal environment. To establish the prayer ethos at home, one would imagine that the adhan would be heard in the house for the five daily prayers (possibly via an adhan clock or an app on a phone or computer), wudu performed, the prayer mats laid out, perhaps the occasional burning of incense, and finally the prayers performed. As this is part of human fitra, we’ve all witnessed and experienced how young children who are raised with this ethos often run and join in by imitating the adults. This is often the case when children see their parents consistently praying in the house and sometimes praying in the mosque.
At the age of 7, it is good to actively encourage and train children to pray. Parents may use all sorts of encouragement and rewards to patiently help their young children to gradually get into the habit of keeping the five daily prayers by the age of 10. Initially, it is about habit forming, before teaching about the meanings and depth behind prayer.
Instilling in children that there are five times that we need to pray will get them into the right mode; habitualizing prayer will make it easier on them. You can ask them if they've prayed yet and help them to make wudu and pray, making it clear that prayer comes first and other activities will wait until after the prayer. In planning the child's day, it is important to accomodate and emphasize prayer. For example, rushing in the morning doesn't allow the child time to make wudu and pray before school, and when children come home after school they have typically not prayed Dhuhr or Asr. When children come home, if they're tired or hungry, address those things first, and then have them pray their Dhuhr and Asr. If it's tough on them, tell them to come pray with you (even if you've already prayed). Pray with them to encourage them. At Maghrib and Isha time they are at home, so everyone can pray on time together.
Once you have established the children's awareness of five times of daily prayer with encouragement, it becomes a habit. As the children get older, you explain prayer to them, but by the time you're explaining it, it's already a habit. So the first thing that we have to do as parents is to make prayer a part of their existence, daily routine, habit, and lives. It will initially be a habit like brushing their teeth and then you work on converting the habit into an ibadah with understanding, and then an ibadah with love, and then an ibadah with presence.
There may be some initial resistance from the children. Sometimes when we potty train or teach them to brush their teeth, initially there may be some resistance. With consistency, kindness and firmness, however, they will understand that they need to pray, and they'll do it.
It is about introducing to their being these five times a day, that there is adhan and when adhan comes, you pray. There is a psychological component to this, as explored by the well-known Pavlov experiment of automatic reactions and responses formed to stimulii. In a similar vein, you want to instill that the response to the adhan is to pray. Enforce that habit, that when you hear the adhan you pray, so the child sees that parents stop what they're doing and pray, and over and over when the adhan comes, the child prays. Then by the time the child is an adult, the salat is ingrained.
Parents religiously wake their children up to go to school, do we also make them do wudu and pray before school? As a practical example for what can be done on a schoolday, when the child comes home, it's good to ease them after a long, tiring day with physical contact like a loving hug, which allows the child to touch base and be rejuvenated. It's good to give the child a hot drink as they often don't drink enough during the day at school. Then make wudu and pray together, and then have something to eat, and then the child can do whatever—run, play, or watch a cartoon—each household is different. Then it's time for homework, and time again to pray and then time to go to sleep. For some people it's religion to make their children sleep at 8, and during the times of the year when Maghrib and Isha are late they send the child to bed without having prayed Maghrib or Isha. If the child is young, then you can have them pray before they go to bed even if it is still light out, to help enforce the habit.
These are some suggestions to help us as parents to model the prayer-centric lifestyles we want our children to imbibe. Making prayer a habit is the first significant step we can take. Dua for our children is also important, and the dua that Prophet Ibrahim (peace be upon him and his family) made for himself and his children to pray and for his parents to be forgiven should always be remembered:
"O my Lord! Make me one who establishes regular Prayer, and also (raise such) among my offspring O our Lord! And accept my Prayer. O our Lord! Cover (us) with Thy Forgiveness – me, my parents, and (all) Believers, on the Day that the Reckoning will be established! "(Surah Ibrahim 14:40-41)
By Noora Ashtari , 18 Aug 2014