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Fatima is Fatima

by : Dr. Ali Shari'ati

Back You are here: Home Books Family Principles of Upbringing Children

Principles of Upbringing Children - Self Confidence

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The life of a human being is full of struggle, challenges and competition. Every human comes across thousands of challenges and difficulties in the lifetime. To live he will have to fight with the powers of the elements unwillingly and has to overpower them. He has to contend with different ailments and their causes. In practical life he is successful who has a big heart, tall courage and strong will. The good or ill luck of a person depends rather on his own self.

The success of all the great persons in the world is because of their own confidence, will power and tireless efforts. The great and weighty persons are never cowed down by hardships. They have self-confidence and Faith in Allah that takes them through all the vicissitudes of life. They are able to accomplish tasks which seem impossible to others. They are not like a straw in the vast ocean which keeps floating on the surface of the water with the wind.

But they are like the powerful swimmer who has strong arms and a will and faith in the Almighty Allah that give them the ability to swim against the direction of the wind. These are the persons who are capable of determining the shape of things to come in the world. Islam too says that the temporal and spiritual success of a person depends on his own actions and determination. The Holy Quran says:

“Whatever man has is the result of his own efforts and he will soon see his endeavour (in full form)" (Quran, 53:39-40)

The Commander of the Faithful, Ali, says:

“The price of every individual is equal to his courage." (Nahj al balagha, v 2, p. 163)

A person who has patience and self-confidence will not look to others for the solution of his problems. He in fact jumps into the arena with complete faith in himself and never gives up till he achieves his goal.

Imam Jafer al Sadiq says:

“The secret of the respect and greatness of a Momin ( a pious person ) is that he does not crave for things in others’ hands." (Usul al-Kafi, v2, p. 148)

Imam Sajjad says:

“All the virtues are there in the fact that a person does not sit waiting for assistance from others." (Usul al-Kafi, v2, p. 148)

But people who lack self-confidence don’t trust on their own capabilities. They consider themselves weak and lowly. They are scared of facing the hardships of life. They will shirk from responsibilities. They make easy tasks difficult by negative thoughts and hopelessness. They spend their lives in despondency and dejection.

Now that the importance of patience and self-confidence is established, it will not be out of place to remind that the basis of these characteristics is inherent in the nature of every human being. But they need to be nurtured and trained. The ideal and most pertinent period of this training is the very childhood of the person.

The rudiments of patience and assurance get manifested from the childhood of every individual. The characteristics contrary to these, namely: impatience and lack of confidence, dependence on others too start developing because of faulty training by the parents. The parents have to train their children with care that they grow into useful individuals.

Imam Zain al Abidin says:

“Train your children in such a way that they bring respect and eminence to you." (Tuhaf al uqul, p. 269)

From the age of four years to the age of eight years is the best period for the shaping of the personality and poise in an individual. In this period the child will be inclined towards patience and forbearance and prepares himself to face the hardships. Although the child will be aware of its weakness and the need for dependence on a superior, it will also have the elements of patience and poise in its nature. It wishes to fulfill its needs . It feels elated at performing new tasks. You must have heard the children uttering these words:

- See, what I am doing?
- Did you see how I jumped?
- Look, I can wear my own dress.
- I shall put on the shoe myself
- I shall drink water from the tumbler
- I want to eat the food with my own hands.
- I don’t want you to pour the tea for me.
- Look at the beautiful picture I have drawn.
- I want to climb on the tree.

The child insists that he would spend the money in his pocket the way he wants. He wants to arrange his toys himself. Sometimes he becomes stubborn with the parents to get his way. Sometimes the child wants to give a helping hand to the parents at the chores. The little daughter tries to wash utensils and clothes with her mother.

She wants to cook food and arrange the dining table. The little son tries to spruce up the garden. He wants to draw pictures, write letters and go out shopping with the father. He will insist that he would select his own dress and footwear. While walking on the road he shows his preference sometimes to walk ahead of the parents and at others he prefers to trail behind them. He likes to take part in the arrangement of the furniture in the house. He refuses to eat certain type of foods.

With such acts the child demonstrates his individuality. To the maximum possible extent the child tries not to be dependent on others. The personality of the child will be a reflection of the parents’ disposition. The parents should give a degree of independence to the child that he progresses with self-confidence. They should express pleasure and appreciation when the child achieves something new. They should assign to him tasks that are to his liking and within his ken. With guidance and encouragement hone his capabilities. The child will progressively gain in confidence.

A psychologist writes:

“A person notices a little fisherman efficiently catching fish. He was getting big catches. The man was surprised. He praised the skill of the young fisherman. The boy thanked him for the praise and said, ’There is nothing surprising in my skill at fishing because I have been doing it ever since I was very small’. The person asked him, ‘ But, what is your age?’ He replied, ‘ six years!’ "

If the parents had not encouraged him and, to the contrary, dissuaded him from starting to do the job from an early age he wouldn't have been able to acquire such good skill. The parents who adore and adulate their children very much, inadvertently make them overly dependent on themselves. They don’t allow the children to do any tasks. They try to do every small thing for the children. They make all the decision for the children themselves.

A large number of parents don’t give any attention to the need for creating self-confidence in the children. They express unhappiness over the mistakes of the children if they attempt to do some task themselves. They don’t like the child innovating and discourage him at every step.

My dear parentsOur children anyway have to grow up They too have to shoulder responsibilities in the future. You have to respond positively to the child’s nature to be independent. The desire for independence is not a fault. This independence is the manifestation of the desire to achieve excellence with one’s own efforts. You must ensure that the child is able to exercise his independence judiciously. You should not insist that you should make decisions for him when he can as well make them himself. You must explain the pros and cons to the child and allow him to make his own decision.

If the child starts to do something and gives it up half way, don’t put him to shame with thoughtless interference. Leave the matter to him.

If your daughter wishes to cook the food herself, then give her guidance to do the task. Don’t interfere while she is at the task. What is the harm if she spoils a dish once. Don’t be critical of her skill at cooking. Do you realise the hurt caused to the child’s psyche at such criticisms.

One lady writes:

“Whatever I tried to do in my childhood, I received rebukes—you broke the delicate china, you have put excessive salt in the dish, you have used more water than the recipe required. What do you know about sweeping the floor? Don’t talk in the presence of guests… and hundreds of more such rebukesWhile cooking I used to taste the dish lest there is excessive salt and water in the preparation. Even then I used to be always at the receiving end.

This is the reason I could not develop confidence in my capabilities. I started considering myself weak and insignificant. I am very unhappy with inferiority complex and lack of confidence. I am in-charge of addressing a weekly meeting (majlis). Every time I stir out for the task I go with a disturbed mind… I start doubting that I might not be able to handle the function properly.

“. My heart will be aflutter. I feel that I might not be able to deliver the talk properly. Many a time I remember a lot of points for the talk that I had also included in some past meetings. Even then I lack confidence. I start wishing that this responsibility was not entrusted to me. Whatever work I do, I start to get the feeling of reluctance. Half way through any work I start wishing that this task was taken away from me. I tried hard to banish this lack of confidence on myself but I have always failed.”

Another lady writes:

“From my childhood mother tried to help me with my work. She never allowed me to do anything alone. In time I got used to the prop and depending on others became a part of my nature. I was not able to use my confidence and capability to tackle problems. I always needed help from Mom and others at home. The dependence on others went to the extent that even for a trivial task I needed support of others. I had a feeling that I am incapable of doing anything on my own."

It must be mentioned at this stage that some children, to display their individuality accede to wrong actions. For example, they may mutilate the flowers and pull out branches of shrubs, harm birds and dogs and cats. Harm others and pull the hair of the sisters. At such times the parents can’t keep quiet without interfering. But they must bear in their minds that when the child does such things, he doesn’t have rancour or hate towards anyone. He is just trying to assert his individuality. The best way of preventing him from such acts is to tacitly divert his attention to other things. Make him busy with some game or gainful task.


There are plenty of parents who think that restricting or denying any freedom to the children is good upbringing. They think that the children are incapable of distinguishing between good and bad. They don’t have enough wisdom and if they are given some independence, they might go astray. Such parents start thinking for the child and make all the decisions for him. They try to keep control over the child’s eating, playing and other activities. They want to model the child’s life according to their own thinking. They believe that the child doesn’t have any right to independence and freedom. He should not do anything without the express permission of the parents.

Whatever the parents decide, the child must do implicitly without a whimper. Whatever the parents decide is wrong, the child must stop doing without any complaint. The children have no say in the plan of upbringing charted by such parents. Earlier, most families used to follow this policy for upbringing their children. They used to bring up the children with a iron hand. Even these days there are families that follow this practice of their forbears.

Although such has been the practice in the past, and is still followed by some families, it is not a desirable trend. It has many drawbacks and lacunae. There is always a possibility that with such training the children might remain comfortable, quiet and obedient to the parents. But they grow into timid persons devoid of self-confidence. Their inventive and innovative instincts will become dormant. They will not have the courage to take up important and difficult tasks in hand.

They are also not capable of becoming leaders. But they will be habituated of taking orders and bearing ill treatment stoically. When they grow up, they are not able to overcome this defect easily. They carry a hitch in their psyche that might later on be the cause of several psychological ailments. It is also possible that such persons develop sadistic tendencies and become tyrannical with their children and others.

Many intellectuals and psychologists have started a campaign against this cruel practice of upbringing and are advocating total freedom for the children. They advise the parents to leave the children free to act according to their own desire and liking. They say that the child should be free to do anything that he desires, although it may not be the right thing in your eyes. This way the child will grow with an independent mind.

The famous psychologist Sigmund Freud believes in this method and has many followers in the East and the West. Lot of parents too followed this method in upbringing their children. They have given total freedom to their children and do not order them around. But this practice too is not totally right. It has several drawbacks. The children brought up this way don’t believe in any restriction for doing what they decide to do. Such children generally will be selfish, excitable and of impudent nature. They think that others don’t have any rights. They usurp others rights and privileges. They unnecessarily trouble their brothers and sisters.

Such children tend to become a nuisance to their neighbours and others. Because their desires are driven by total independence, they commit excesses towards others. Their expectations reach such a level that they will find it difficult to fulfill them. When such children grow into adults they expect others to obey them withoutany complaint. They don’t want to be controlled by anyone else. When they notice that they are unable to get their way with others, then they become heart-broken After having faced rebuffs in the society they become reclusive, or, to take revenge against their defeats they devise stratagems for tyranny and dangerous acts.

Unrestricted freedom sometimes becomes hazardous too. Sometimes a child wishes to run dangerously on the road or to touch the live electrical wire. Thus, the two methods of upbringing, one that gives no freedom to the child and the other which recommends total freedom, are both fraught with glaring faults.

The best path to follow in the matter of the upbringing of the child is to give him selective freedom. Allah has endowed the human beings with different instincts and feelings that go to make the nature of a person. Some of these instincts are love, hate, bravery, fear etc. These are intrinsic feelings and notions endowed by Allah to all human beings for tackling the problems that confront them. These instincts go to make the individual’s personality. In a free environment these instincts keep growing.

Fear is for escape from dangers. Anger helps in deciding to attack the adversary. Diligence is required for acquiring learning. A person who does not have the instinct of fear and anger in his nature will be an inferior person. It is not right to suppress these instincts in a child. In an atmosphere of freedom a child can make use of these instincts to advantage.

The Religion of Islam gives particular attention to the need for freedom. A few traditions are quoted here.

Ali said:

“Don’t become slave to others, Allah has given birth to you as a free person." (Bihar al-anwar, v77, p.214)

Imam Jafer al Sadiq said:

“A person who has the following five qualities will be a successful person: First: Faith, Second: Wisdom, Third: Morals, Fourth: Freedom, Fifth: Good behaviour."

The Prophet of Islam said:

“The child is a ruler till he is seven years old, seven to fourteen years he is a subject and after fourteen years he is the deputy and adviser for his parents." (Wasail al-shiah, v 15, p. 195)

But total freedom is not possible in the society. For one person’s freedom, the freedom of others in the society cannot be compromised. The child must be made to understand early in life that without any restrictions one cannot live in the society. Others too have some rights and privileges. For example: a child wants to play. Play is good for his training He must have freedom to play games that suit his temperament. But while playing the child should be aware of the rights of others. He should exercise care that property of the neighbours is not damaged, the window-panes of buildings in the neighbourhood are not broken. Therefore, he does have the freedom to play but this freedom is having some restrictions.

The child can exercise his instinct to get angry. He can defend himself by showing anger at proper time. But in the exercise of his anger he does not have the freedom to damage the property around him, cause some injury to others or heap insults at them.

The parents should devise a strategy for the upbringing of the child keeping in consideration his age, intelligence, strength and feelings. They should put his actions in two categories:

1. The actions that are desirable for him.

2. The actions that are taboo for him.

They should determine the limit for each type of action. Then they should give total freedom to the child for the desirable activity so that he fully exercises his instincts in performing these activities without any restriction. The child should be free to think and act. Not only the child should be given total freedom, but also on occasion he must be guided, if so required. But the acts which are taboo for the child, he should be strictly prevented from doing them.

If this attitude is adopted, neither will the freedom of the child be curbed nor his capabilities hindered. He will have the right amount of freedom and control to ensure that his instincts are utilised gainfully.

The parents should carefully determine the right and wrong acts that the child might do. The acts which are harmful to the family, which might cause harm to the persons or property, which are against the norms of Shariah and the law should be black-listed and the child should be strictly prevented from perpetrating them. For the right acts the child should be given total freedom. In performance of these good acts the child should be allowed to use his own thinking and intuition.

The rules of behaviour should be determined keeping in view the strength of his body and mind, his thinking capacity. Care should be taken to set rules which are not harsh on the child.

The parents should be firm in their pronouncements to the child, “You can do this.”“You must not do this."

The parents should keep aside unnecessary sentiments and emotions. They should abstain from doubts and suspicions so that the child understands its responsibilities and will not have any hesitation in fulfillling his duties.

Imam Hasan al Askari says:

“When a child disobeys his parents, and is impertinent to them, he will grow into an adult who is rebellious and insubordinate."(Bihar al-anwar, v78, p. 374)

The parents must both co-ordinate with one another to abstain from differences of opinion while dealing with the child. The differences amongst the parents can create doubts in the mind of the child.


Every child will have a degree of stubbornness in its nature that becomes evident from the age of two years. A stubborn child generally insists to get things done his way. Whenever he finds some resistance from others, he will have recourse to crying and shouting. It will roll on the ground and hit its head against the walls.

The child may even refuse to have food. It will throw the crockery and sometimes even become aggressive and hit the other members of the family. This habit of stubbornness, if it persists, is also noticed in grown up youth. Generally the parents complain about this aberration in their children and keep searching a solution to the problem. It is the common experience that the parents have access to one of the two methods, mentioned here, to overcome the problem:

Firstly: Some parents are of opinion that a tough attitude should be taken, if the child is stubborn, by refusing to accede to his demands. These parents say that the child has become very assertive and they need to be firm in denying its wishes. They try to correct the child by being strict and go to the extent of punishing and beating him. They try to impose their own wishes on the child. The behaviour of such parents is tantamount to tit-for-tat attitude. This approach is not desirable even if they have momentarily quietened the child by being strict. To the contrary they cause grave harm to the psyche of the child with their strict attitude.

Two years is the age of the onset of self-determination and confidence in a child. The obstinate behaviour of the child is the assertion of its nature of independence. At this tender age the child is not capable of controlling its wishes and imagining the consequences of fulfillling them. It makes up its mind and wants the things done accordingly.

If the parents deny him his wishes, they would be hurting the child’s psyche. Such children might grow into calm individuals but they will be devoid of the trait of confidence and determination. When a child notices that nobody is concerned about its wishes and are preventing him by force from having his way, then he will become dejected and disappointed. This condition of unrest and frustration becomes a part of his nature. There can also be the possibility of his becoming rebellious as he grows up and indulges in extreme acts like tyranny and murder as an expression of his extreme feelings of hurt.

Secondly: Some experts on the subject of upbringing believe that, to the extent possible, the child’s wishes should be satisfied. He must be allowed to do what he wishes to. They feel that the child should be given a degree of independence. They believe that as the child grows up, it will stop being stubborn. But this method of handling the children too has its own flaws.

There are certain acts that can be harmful to the child and others around him, if he is allowed to do them. The elders closing their eyes to such acts of the child is not being wise. Imagine a three-year-old trying to scale a ladder unhindered. The possibility of his falling and maiming himself for life will always be there. The child might try to light the oven unattended and consequently cause a big fire. The child may get into its head to bodily harm other children around him. The elders always have to prevent the child from doing such things.

The child who is free to do what he likes, and finds acceptance for these acts, with unruly behaviour will in stages become a selfish and dictatorial individual. He expects that people will accept his point of view without complaint. He has not met with any denial of his wishes in the childhood and expects the same attitude from others when he has grown up. But in practice this is not the case. People can differ with his points of view. After facing many such denials he gets frustrated and becomes reclusive. He will consider himself a defeated person and thinks that others are unreasonable.

Islam considers stubbornness as a negative trait in an individual as several traditions can be quoted in this regard:

For instance, Ali, The Commander of the Faithful, says:

“Stubbornness is the cause of evil." (Ghirar al-hukm, p. 16)

“Brazenness ( or stubbornness) causes harm to the human intelligence."(Ghirar al-hukm, p. 17)

“Stubbornness is the cause of conflict and enmity." (Ghirar al-hukm, p. 18)

“Stubbornness harms a person the most in this world and Hereafter." (Ghirar al-hukm, p. 104)

The best attitude is one of moderation. The parents who adopt this way of upbringing their children don’t consider the stubbornness of the child as an aberration and are aware that it is the expression of his individuality. Instead of curbing this instinct, they use is for the training and upbringing of the child. They carefully consider and analyse the demands and acts of the child. They give freedom to the child for his acts that are harmless and thus encourage the growth of its mental capabilities. They become his friends and give him a helping hand in the performance of his actions.

Such children strengthen their determination to perform acts and give expression to their individualities. These children consider the parents as their friends and not persons who unnecessarily impede their actions.

But such parents assert constraint on the harmful acts of the children and don’t mince words in advising the child to refrain from such acts. They clearly explain the reasons for stopping the child from such acts and divert its mind to some other useful activity. Because the child has a good feeling towards the parents, who don’t put too many restrictions on him, agrees to refrain from the act which they ask him not to do. But if sometimes the child persists with his demand for doing an undesirable act, .the parents have to put their foot down and prevent him from doing it. The child will then cool down after some time. The child should be trained to realise that in life one cannot always be stubborn, The parents must exercise restraint while handling the children and should not take recourse to beating them. The child should not get the idea that the parents are tyrannical Such children can turn rebellious with passage of time.

At the end of this discussion, it is in place to mention the following points for the consideration of the mentors:

1. As far as possible give freedom for action to the children. Don’t interfere too much with their actions. Don’t perpetually keep on telling them not to do things. When the child tries to climb over a chair or a shrub, you ask him not to do itHe tries to peel a fruit; you stop him from doing it lest he cut his fingersHe wants to light the water-heater, you prevent him from doing it, fearing he might burn his handHe tries to pour decoction in a teacup, you stop him saying he might break the expensive ChinaHe plays inside the house, you say he is making too much of noiseHe stirs out into the lane, you fear he might be run over by a bicycleThen, what would you expect the little child to doHe too has human feelingsWhen you interfere too much with his acts, he might develop stubbornness. One reason for the trait of stubbornness in the children is excessive interference of the parents in their actions.

2. When a child becomes querulous, then try to find the reason for this and find a solution. The child will then calm down. If he is hungry, feed him. If he is tired, help him to sleep. If the child is disturbed with the environment, like a noisy television near him, or noisy visitors around, set the environment right for him.

3. Don’t insult or upbraid the child that can make him more stubborn. Ali says,”Reprimand gives wind to the fire of stubbornness." (Tuhaf al-uqul, p. 80)

4. Sometimes the siblings commit excesses on a child and he finds no supporter. He willthen become rebellious and stubborn. In such cases the parents must intervene.

5. If your child behaves stubbornly and you are unable to fathom the reason for this; then introspect whether his behaviour is because of your own failing.