Prayer, in the prescribed manner, is obligatory upon every adult Muslim of sound mind. As far as children are concerned, it is not obligatory on them until they come of age. However, it requires continuous effort and persuasion to get them to the stage where they start offering their Prayers regularly in the manner prescribed for the Prayer. Proper training and education is therefore necessary for children. It is for this reason that the Holy Prophet(sa) has directed that when children reach the age of seven, parents should urge them to be regular in their Prayers and when they reach the age of ten, they must be admonished if they fail to offer their Prayers regularly. (Sunan Abu Dawud, Kitabus-Salat).
Once the children reach the age of maturity, it becomes compulsory for them to offer their Prayers. At that stage, no individual or Government has the right to force them to offer their Prayers, as the Salat offered under compulsion does not mean anything. It ought to be offered willingly. The matter rests between the person and his God. Therefore, it is the duty of every and all Muslim parents to prepare their children for Salat from an early age. Moreover, it is highly essential for them to pray to God Almighty that their children become regular in Prayers. God’s help is sought because the task is huge.
It is mentioned in the Holy Quran that throughout his life Hadrat Ishmael(as) used to exhort members of his household to offer their Prayers regularly. It is often observed that in homes where elders offer their Prayers regularly, the children start copying the movements of their elders naturally and thus become regular in their Prayers, with time. However, when a child reaches the age of seven, the proper method of Prayer should be taught to him. He should be encouraged to join in Prayer and, if possible, he should be persuaded to accompany the parents to the mosque. This will develop in the child an affinity with Prayer,and will safeguard the habit of Prayer in the following generation. The parent or guardian, however, is permitted to be somewhat strict with the children between the ages of 10 to 12, should they become slack in offering their Prayers. This does not mean that they should be treated cruelly or punished, rather they should be admonished to the same degree as parents often admonish them for missing school. However, when they reach the age of twelve, they should be made to realise that their parents have discharged their duty and from that time on, the matter rests between them and God, to Whom they are answerable. This does not mean that they should not be advised, exhorted or admonished because as far as advising them is concerned, it can go on for life, if required. It is only the element of strictness which comes to an end when the child reaches the age of twelve. As mentioned earlier, Hadrat Ishmael(as) adopted the same method of love and kind persuasion with the members of his household. The Holy Prophet Muhammad(sa)treated the grown-ups in his family in the same manner. It is reported that he used to call out to his daughter Hadrat Fatimah(ra) and his son-in-law Hadrat ‘Ali(ra) to wake them up for Fajr Prayer.