The Wooden Ruler

I remember just before my exams Appa made a rule. Every evening after returning from work, Appa chose a subject and asked me questions on the chapters I had studied. If I didn’t give answers, he hit me with a ‘wooden ruler’. I was scared of that ruler. Every time I saw that ruler, I shivered and became blank. Even though I had studied the answers, at that moment I forgot everything.

One day Appa told me to revise History, but I was so scared of the ‘wooden ruler’ that I hid my history notebook under the mattress. When Appa asked for the book, I replied it was with the teacher for correction. I happily ate dinner that day, as there was no yelling and spanking.

After dinner as Appa went to bed, he said, let’s change the bedspread. He pulled the bedspread….but it got stuck. He tried pulling it again…but it got stuck. He pulled the mattress and there my History notebook fell. I froze. Thinking about the consequences I started saying, “Appa I am sorry…please I am sorry”

He took that ‘wooden scale’ and hit me so hard that it broke into pieces. If only he had asked, “What made you hide the book and lie to me?” I would have explained my feelings and thoughts to him.

I think most of us grew up in an era where physical punishments were okay. If the child is not listening, hit. If the child doesn’t eat, study, doesn’t get up on time- hit. It wasn’t our parents fault. They modelled their parents who believed punishment is the only way to get things done.

Burno bettelheim

However, my experience tells me that punishments never brought the best in the child. I disobyed, I was punished. Be it locking me in the bathroom or hitting me with the belt. The more I got hit, the more I rebelled. I remember once Appa threatened, “If you don’t do this then…” and I replied, “What will you do Appa, beat me…go ahead beat me” and that day he hit me with a leather belt. Punishments pull a child away from the parent. I remember breaking things and yelling at Appa. Our relationship started becoming sour and I felt he never loved me.

Appa was never taught how to express his love towards his children. He believed that “we get angry on people whom we love the most.”This reminds me of my school teacher who had once told me, “You have the right to become angry, but not to become cruel.” Those words had a deep impact on my soul and every time the unresourceful emotion of anger takes over, I ask myself, “What am I angry about?” “What has to happen for me to redirect this anger?” “What is the purpose of this anger/ what is this emotion trying to convey?”

In my observation I have concluded that every emotion has an underlying purpose to it. Let me give you an example. Say you asked your child to clean their room and they didn’t listen. You tell them few more times and they still don’t listen, what happens. You start yelling and maybe pull that TV remote and if you are too angry, break the remote and threaten them to cut the cable connection. Some parents like me might start saying, “When I was your age, I cleaned the room or else my Appa hit me with a leather belt. Do I do that with you, NO na, then why can’t you clean up this room.”

The anger over here is not because the child didn’t clean the room, but maybe it gives a deeper message to our brain. For some parents not listening means, not respecting and for some, not behaving in the way they want means the child is a spoilt brat.

Now imagine if you didn’t complete a report on time in your office and you boss yells at you, “Why can’t you complete it on time. If you are not going to complete the report on time, I will dismiss you from the post.” And imagine if your boss tells this in front of your colleagues and subordinates. How will you feel?

The feeling that you experienced now is just a drop as compared to the ocean of emotions that flow in the mind of the child. You may go and have a drink, abuse your boss and remove the frustration on your spouse or family, but where will the child go? How will he/she express the fear, hurt, insult and guilt? Have you ever thought about it? If not, then I want you to start thinking about it now.

As a parenting coach I meet many parents who tell me, “I never hit my child and I try to make him understand.” But when I speak to the child he says, “Mummy keeps yelling the entire day, don’t do this, don’t do that. If you do this, then I won’t allow you to join the football team. If you get 90% then only I’ll enrol you in dance class.”

And one girl, 16 years old, told me, “My mom’s voice…it irritates me. She can never speak softly. She keeps yelling at the top of her voice, as if I can’t hear what she’s telling. Her voice puts me off and I don’t feel like doing anything.”

Maybe parents today have stopped punishing their children, but yelling and threatening are still prevalent. If you feel that your child is not listening to you- then it’s time for you to step back and watch your behaviour and actions, the tone of your voice and your body language when you speak with your child. Perhaps you will discover something useful as you do it, now.

This quote by Haim Ginott sums it up

“When a child hits a child, we call it aggression.

When a child hits an adult, we call it hostility.

When an adult hits an adult, we call it assault.

When an adult hits a child, we call it discipline.”

If you wish to learn how to stop yelling and start connecting with your child, you may drop a comment and I shall share few techniques that I use with my daughter and get things done, easily.


PS: My Appa and I share a lovely bond now which I never shared with him in my childhood and teen years. I empathize with the helplessness he felt as he couldn’t express his love for me at that time.

Love and Gratitude,


11 thoughts on “The Wooden Ruler

  1. I agree with you. When yelling(in continuity of your anger) doesn’t help ( my toddler helped me realize it..), changing tone works. But to do that we have to be energetic and patient enough without running out of time in mornings especially when each of us need to head to our destinations for the day!

    Do share some techniques – especially my l’l one keeps morsel in mouth of minutes.If I have any major issue, its her eating food /drinking milk. She eats for hours…and if we take away that time is over, she is fine with it and doesnt ask for it..more happy..

    1. Hi Rada,
      I too used to face this challenge of my daughter eating very slowly. It was a constant battle…telling her to chew her food and to eat a little fast. When I was working I usually fed her as that saved the time, but after I Ieft my job, I ensured that she eats on her own.
      What I observed here was, the more creative I became in the process…the more easily she ate. earlier when she kept the morsel in her mouth, I would say, “Eat na…please eat fast” and at the end, shout at her for eating slowly.
      The moment I shifted my response, I observed a change in her. This is how I changed my conversation style-
      “If only the food could chew itself, it could be so easy na…food will automatically get chewed and you can save so much time.” to which she replied
      “Ya mumma, if only we had a door just outside our stomach, we could directly put all the food there…and then,…its s easy….”
      I noticed adding humor to our conversation shifted many things. She still eats slowly…but then there is lot of improvement which makes me a happy mommy!

      1. clever reply by your daughter! I think you must be relieved so much when she is improving..good to know. I need to keep talking and make some conversation continuously so that at least to answer she will chew.But I get tired juggling between tasks, making the conversation interesting(I was not so talkative earlier – that’s taking a toll here) and thinking, planning next tasks etc..

  2. Lovely post, Gayatri. Left me with fodder for thought. Yes, I often end up yelling at the children when they don’t listen. Perhaps now I will take a step back and rethink my own tone. Thank you for sharing your experience. Luckily, for me, my parents never hit us and even yelling was minimal.

    1. Welcome Rachna to my blog and thank you so much for your comments on this post. It’s a post close to my heart. Our tone, body language, the way we look at our children when they commit a mistake or do something that we don’t approve of, all these matter a lot. I started to understand this more as I worked with children. I remember a boy telling, “The way daddy stares at me….as if I’m a thief, when I eat an extra piece of cake.” Small incidents yet a deep impact.

      I’m glad you grew up in an environment filled with love 🙂

  3. Hi Gayu,

    Lovely article! As a kid, my father thrashed me mercilessly. As a father, I too hit my children. Today, I feel no animosity towards my dad, but the guilt of hitting my kids is something I’ll take to my grave..

    I too write a blog called ‘Mitti Pao!’ Here’s a post, a letter to my kids that you may like to read..

    Am following you now..

    Col Harish Puri (Retd)

  4. Gayu, I want to give you big tight hug for writing this post. It is true that punishments do nothing but make the child rebellious. I have had similar experience. But not by my parents. I was physically punished by my Math teacher even for my right answers. She was adamant to prove that I could never be right. The reason was that her daughter was in the same class and she wanted her to be the best. She would shame me in front of an entire class, ask my fellow classmates to laugh at me, beat me with cane stick, tear off pages from my book and throw my book out of the window. This continued for four years by the end of which I gave up on myself. Thanks to the new teacher at school and a new tuition teacher who brought back the interest through constant encouragement. I don’t hit the girls. But I do yell. And in the past one year, I have consciously worked on that too. It helps a lot, I can feel it. The kids become confident and they trust you enough to share their experiences.

    1. I can understand what you must have gone through. When we look at such incidents closely, we may think it’s just a way to discipline the child, yet from a distance it is traumatizing and abusing the child. Hugs to you Rekha. I’m glad that you’re working on yourself, very few parents do that and I’m so happy that you’re observing the changes too in your daughter’s behaviour. I’ve observed that children get scared when they hear loud voices or when parents yell at them. I too used to yell at my daughter, but when I looked back at my childhood, I discovered the pain I went through when I was yelled at.
      This shifted my behaviour.
      I’m with you Rekha, just a message or email away. Let’s become a better parent for our children 🙂

  5. Very thoughtful, and true! I know some people who are never soft to their children. I wrote an article few years back (got published in Alive Mag) “Beat the Anger. “You have the right to become angry, but not to become cruel.” Couldn’t agree more.

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