Children Learn What They Live

Posted on: 06/11/2020

This week’s blog is from Mrs. Smith and I am sure that this poignant and thoughtful poem will resonate with us all.

Children Learn What They Live

I grew up in Rochester, in Kent, where my twin brother was a member of the Rochester Cathedral Choir. I have fond memories of afternoons spent in the great, draughty crypt of Rochester Cathedral with my mum, where we would prepare ‘choir teas’ for the choristers, to be consumed between rehearsals and evensongs, or between services. 

The crypt also included the cathedral book shop, where not just books but other items of merchandise were sold. It was there, in the mid-1980s, that I first came across a poem that has stuck with me all my life. The poem was printed on a ‘card of inspiration’, of which the shop sold several. I used 50p of my pocket money to buy the card, and stuck it on my bedroom wall by my bed, because I loved the words so much. I instinctively felt the poem to be true as a young teenager, I believed it to be true when I first became a mother in my mid-twenties, and I absolutely know it to be true now as a mother of older teenagers and a senior leader of a prep school. The poem was written in 1954 by a lady named Dorothy Law Nolte, an American writer and family counsellor. In 1972, she copyrighted the poem and it became more widely published and finally, in 1998, the poem’s themes were expanded into a book, which Dorothy Law Nolte co-authored. To me, it sums up everything that is true about child-rearing and it is also very much in tune with the St. Helen’s College values of love, harmony and growth. 

There are several shortened versions of the poem available but I think the original, longest version is the most powerful. I am sharing it with you in the hope that you will agree that my 50p was well spent! I hope that you will find these words as meaningful as I did then, and still do now. 

Mrs. Smith

Children Learn What They Live
by Dorothy Law Nolte, Ph.D.

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 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 security, they learn to have faith.
If children live with kindness and consideration, they learn respect.
If children live with acceptance and friendship, they learn to find love in the world.