Don’t worry if you are trying to get your kids to fast. Dr Abeer Khayat, Paediatrician, American Hospital Dubai, explains how to get through it comfortably
Are your children starting to fast this Ramadan? While it is not mandatory for your child to fast before they hit puberty, most young Muslim children look forward to Ramadan as an important rite of passage. It allows them to deepen their faith while understanding the significance of fasting. The appropriate age for fasting from medical standpoint depends on the general health of the child and the build. Generally, healthy children can start fasting from 10 years of age, but should not be forced to if they do not feel they can do it. “If a child shows interest in fasting at younger age, he or she can be encouraged to try,” says Dr Abeer Khayat, Paediatrician. “However, in the presence of illness
or poor general health parents should not allow them. By puberty, or around 15 years of age, they can fast as adults according their faith and beliefs.” Ensuring health Preparing children for fasting does not occur over few days prior to Ramadan. In contrast, the ability of a child to fast depends on on a longstanding healthy lifestyle that usually starts at very early age. “It includes a healthy diet and eating habits, establishing sleep hygiene, staying physically active and avoiding a sedentary lifestyle throughout the year,” says Dr Khayat. Ensuring the overall health of their children is the responsibility of parents and the paediatrician, says Dr Khayat. Families are encouraged to have yearly visits with their children to a paediatrician toensure normal growth and development; these visits provide the earliest opportunity to prevent, diagnose and treat health conditions before they become serious. “If the parents are not sure about their child nutrition status, it would be advisable to have him or her checked by a paediatrician before allowing the child to fast,” says Dr Khayat. “During fasting, it is encouraged to keep normal life routine as much as possible; such as waking up early in the morning, keeping normal daily activities, taking a short nap in the afternoon, and avoiding staying up late at night.”
A healthy diet
What can a child eat when ending their fast? It’s best to eat dates and drink water or milk, followed by a short break before having the main meal. “This practise helps the body regulate the amount of food that the child needs and avoid overeating,” says Dr Khayat. “Eating too fast is not encouraged as this can delay the feeling of fullness and satisfaction and can lead
to overeating.” The general concern is not about getting sufficient food and calories, but how to make sure children are not overeating during Ramadan. “Eating in Ramadan should not be different than any other time of the year and a healthy diet and eating habits should be maintained,” advises Dr Khayat. “Children are encouraged to drink at least four to six cups of water between Iftar and Suhour and avoid sugary drinks. Iftar meal does not have to be very heavy, and should be equal to regular lunch or dinner. One healthy snack such as whole fruits, dates, yoghurt, milk, or a smoothie can be offered before sleep. Suhour meal, equal to normal breakfast meal, should be postponed as close as possible to dawn, in order to provide energy during the day.”
◆Provide three well balanced meals per day and two small snacks; make sure that your child eats breakfast before going to school.
◆ Get your kids used to eating at least five servings of fresh fruits and vegetables per day; one serving is the size of a child’s fist.
◆ Avoid sugary drinks, fast food, and processed food, as this can place your child at risk for obesity, and can affect the child’s general health.
◆ Keep your child physically active through sports and free play, at least 3060 minutes per day.
◆ Avoid long hours on electronic screens; keep it limited to two hours or less per day.
◆ Maintain good sleeping habits throughout the year to ensure normal growth and development.