When a child is hurt and a parent yells, “Shake it off!” in response, what the child hears is, “You’re not tough enough — be stronger.” Image Credit: Supplied

Noted poet and lyricist Sahir Ludhianvi’s anthology is titled Talkhiyan: Bitterness. It opens with a biting couplet in which the poet says that he’s giving the world back what he got from it.

Sahir’s bitterness and pessimism is born of his experiences in his formative years when his father, a landlord, maltreated his mother and him. It had a lifelong impact on Sahir and his feisty poetry.

People’s lives are largely shaped by what they experience at a young age and hence there’s a huge responsibility on parents to ensure they do nothing that leaves an ugly imprint on their child’s psyche, for it can be immeasurably, and in some cases irreversibly, devastating.

I was barely a teenager when once my father asked me to spell a particular English word which I did. He thought I was wrong and pulled me up in front of his colleagues saying all kinds of things an irate father could heap upon a child. I was shaken. I knew I had spelt it right. Not that there was any rationale in insulting me if I had spelt it wrong. I picked the dictionary and walked up to him, which infuriated him further. I gave up in utter indignation.

The incident defined our relationship for the rest of the life. That I was an inquisitive child who loved to challenge and question didn’t do our cause any good either. A couple of decades later, there is still unease between us. Our conversations are too formal at times and I sometimes get a feeling as if we are two strangers talking to each other.

To my father’s credit, though, I owe my command over tenses to him. He’d conduct a post-dinner English quiz and the winner would get a roll of Poppins, colourful fruity candies, which was a rage among children back in the day.

Thankfully, unlike Sahir, the spelling incident or the ones before or after didn’t embitter me. Primarily because, from a young age, I developed varied interests in life.

It’s thanks to these multiple interests that despite my fair share of trials and tribulations, I never felt bitter. Whenever life tried to bog me down or disillusion me, there was music and cinema to fall back on. There was this game of glorious uncertainties called cricket to latch on to. There was politics to discuss, good poetry or a book to read. My love for tea and a particular kind of bonhomie I share with tea lovers. All these put together gave life a deeper meaning far beyond its vagaries. But that isn’t how it works in most of the cases.

There are some strict dos and don’ts that parents and teachers need to adhere to with respect to children’s upbringing.

Never underestimate children’s intellect. Never insult their intelligence. Never tell them lies — if you really have to — that are totally implausible. Children are far more mature and intelligent than we adults can imagine.

Children need to be heard. They don’t mind if they’re spoken to but it has to be respectful. They need love and care. If it doesn’t come from the family, they try to look for it outside the family and that increases their susceptibility to situations that can be detrimental, both in the short run and in the long run.

Try to inspire them as much as you can by your actions rather than rhetoric. They’re more inclined to get inspired by how you act than by what you say. Earn their respect. Remember, you cannot exact their wilful obedience by fear. You can act like a disciplinarian and they’ll still respect and obey you, but for that you’ve to lead by example.

They watch and observe and absorb. They have this fly-on-the-wall view. They silently notice everything.

There are difficult children as well, but they too can be managed sensibly. And more often than not, it’s bad parenting that’s responsible for it.

Talk to children. Take them seriously. Don’t dismiss their queries and curiosities. Give them respect; love alone isn’t enough.

Shabir Hussain is a journalist based in India