But to her credit, she rose to the occasion and penned what has become one of the most beloved poems on raising children in the entire world: Children Learn What They Live. Her short poem has been noted as a simple but powerful guide to parenting the old-fashioned way – by instilling values through example. Indeed, it has been called a childrearing “mantra for millions of parents”.
Her inspirational work literally took on a life of its own, becoming ubiquitous. Copied repeatedly and passed from hand to hand, it was printed on plaques and posters and hung in schools everywhere. It was even distributed to millions of new parents by a maker of baby formula.
In fact, her obituary notes that it “was photocopied, circulated, anthologized, and affixed to refrigerator doors worldwide for nearly two decades before she claimed rightful authorship of it in the 1970's”.
I thought I would post it here today.
CHILDREN LIVE WHAT THEY LEARN
If a child lives with criticism, he learns to condemn . . .
If a child lives with hostility, he learns to fight . . .
If a child lives with fear, he learns to be apprehensive . . .
If a child lives with pity, he learns to feel sorry for himself . . .
If a child lives with ridicule, he learns to be shy . . .
If a child lives with jealousy, he learns to feel guilt . . .
If a child lives with tolerance, he learns to be patient . . .
If a child lives with encouragement, he learns to be confident . . .
If a child lives with praise, he learns to be appreciative . . .
If a child lives with acceptance, he learns to love . . .
If a child lives with honesty, he learns what truth is . . .
If a child lives with fairness, he learns justice . . .
If a child lives with security, he learns to have faith in himself and those about him . . .
If a child lives with friendliness, he learns the world is a nice place in which to live . . .
WITH WHAT IS YOUR CHILD LIVING?
In 1993, Dr. Nolte rewrote her poem in plural form using “children” and "they" so as to make it gender neutral, and thus inclusive of both boys and girls. It appeared that year in Jack Canfield's and Mark V. Hansen’s now famous book: Chicken Soup for the Soul in the following version:
If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn.
If children live with hostility, they learn to fight.
If children live with fear, they learn to be apprehensive.
If children live with pity, they learn to feel sorry for themselves.
If children live with ridicule, they learn to feel shy.
If children live with jealousy, they learn to feel envy.
If children live with shame, they learn to feel guilty.
If children live with encouragement, they learn confidence.
If children live with tolerance, they learn patience.
If children live with praise, they learn appreciation.
If children live with acceptance, they learn to love.
If children live with approval, they learn to like themselves.
If children live with recognition, they learn it is good to have a goal.
If children live with sharing, they learn generosity.
If children live with honesty, they learn truthfulness.
If children live with fairness, they learn justice.
If children live with kindness and consideration, they learn respect.
If children live with security, they learn to have faith in themselves and in those about them.
If children live with friendliness, they learn the world is a nice place in which to live.
Years later, in 1998, Dr. Nolte, along with fellow psychotherapist Rachel Harris, turned her classic poem into a book - one into which each of the 19 couplets of the poem is developed into a chapter: i.e., on jealousy, shame, praise, recognition, honesty, fairness, tolerance, etc…
The book, titled Children Learn What They Live: Parenting to Inspire Values, did quite well, being translated into 18 different languages and selling over 3 million copies worldwide.
In fact, it was so successful that, in 2005, Dr. Nolte followed it up with a sequel titled Teenagers Learn What They Live: Parenting to Inspire Integrity and Independence. Both books are still available from Workman Publishing.
Of course, the poem has time-honored antecedents in our Western cultural tradition, both written and oral. In Proverbs 22:6, the King James Version of the Bible states: “Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” In the original Hebrew, the word for “train up” is “chanak”, and it comes from a root word meaning “mouth, palate, roof of the mouth, and/or taste”.
Translation: you are what you eat! Thus, we must be careful what we feed our children; for that is invariably what they will one day become! Dr. Nolte was right: a steady diet of criticism, hostility, fear, pity, ridicule, and jealousy will most likely only produce condemnation, fighting, apprehensiveness, feeling sorry for self, shyness, and guilt within a child.
Conversely, a steady diet of tolerance, encouragement, praise, acceptance, honesty, fairness, security, and friendliness will usually produce patience, confidence, appreciation, love, truth, justice, a willingness to have faith in himself and those about him, and an understanding that the world is a relatively nice place in which to live.
And that makes not only for a better child, but for a better world indeed!
SOURCE: Duen Hsi Yen has a web page devoted to tracing the history of the above poem in its various iterations. Check out: http://www.noogenesis.com/pineapple/Kristone.html.
NOTE: Dr. Nolte’s obituary, also containing a summary of how this famous poem came about, can be found online here: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/20/arts/20nolte.html?_r=0.