My children are just coming to that age when fasting will soon become obligatory for them, particularly Little Lady. All three of the older ones are also in the age range (7-14) that I call the age of “tarbiyah” or correct upbringing when I feel that it is most important to start seriously establishing the habits that will be part of the rest of their life - such as salah (prayer), modesty in dress for both girls and boys and fasting during Ramadan.
Hubby and I both started fasting as children (from about age 7-8) and the days were fairly long then, but I remember being very keen to do it. With my own children, I have allowed them to keep a few each year during weekends when I can watch them and with the proviso that if they should start to feel too thirsty or unwell, they must have something to eat.
This year I have had an ongoing discussion with Little Lady who I worry about because she is a little low in Vitamin D. When I suggested that perhaps she shouldn't keep all of her fasts, she rounded on me with “Well if you don’t let me, then YOU will have to answer for that on the Day of Judgement”. Sounds like I got told.
This year their school sent letters home saying that no children would be allowed to fast due to the long day (just over 17 hours) and hot weather as this would mean they are not sleeping enough and would not be able to concentrate on their learning. The head-teacher had consulted with a local imam (not sure who) who agreed that primary school children do not need to fast. Quite a few of the girls in Year 6 have reached puberty meaning that it becomes a duty for then to fast (unless it would impact their healthy adversely to do so). I think maybe this imam might have been a bit naïve about how quickly young girls are reaching puberty in this generation.
Some of the mum’s tried to reason with the head-teacher, so that the older children (10 and 11 year old's) could fast, but she was not willing to move from her position on the matter. Some of the kids are still insisting on fasting, even taking their packed lunch to school as required and bringing it back uneaten. Some of the mothers have gotten us to sign a petition to make the head-teacher reconsider.
I haven’t really had to deal with this issue properly yet because Little Lady has been taking medication and we will need to ensure she stays hydrated. But I did discuss with her doctor and he advised that it was fine for her to fast once her treatment was completed as long as we managed her nutrition properly during the time she wasn't fasting. He particularly recommended dates as a good source of nutrition and reminded us that she would still have to try and fit in eight glasses of water a day.
So I have said that the children can fast at the weekend and they have done so over two weekends with me asking every little while how they are feeling. I have spent lots of time trying to stop them playing football, running around and getting hot and wrestling and asking them to rest and sleep – so far all of the physical activity seems to have no effect, in particular Little Man who is a big foodie and could eat for a living and is forever hungry, keeps saying he is fine and doesn't even feel hungry.
I have also made clear that there is no point in fasting if they do not pray their salat (five daily prayers). Little Lady prays all five prayers now (albeit still needs reminders), but the boys will try and make excuses, so this has been a useful way to encourage them in the intervening days between fasts.
The big question now is how to get them out of bed and get them to eat and drink enough at 2am to get them through the day. At the moment I am bribing them with mango juice if they eat enough, but this weekend I fell asleep as they ate and woke up suddenly near the end of fajr (dawn prayer) time to find they had left their mostly uneaten food and were all asleep back in bed.