Children Learn What They Live
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.
—Dorothy Law Nolte, Ph.D.
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Since its publication in 1954, Dorothy Law Nolte's inspirational and educational poem, Children Learn What They Live has been published worldwide, translated into 10 languages, taught in parenting and teaching courses, distributed in doctors offices, and printed on posters and calendars. In Children Learn What They Live: Parenting to Inspire Values, authors Nolte, a teacher and lecturer on family life, and Rachel Harris, Nolte's friend and teaching associate, have taken the classic poem and fleshed it into a small gem of a book. The expanded version maintains the grace and wisdom of the original, yet adds significant insight into the process of encouraging values through example. "If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn," begins the poem (and the book), and so Nolte and Harris suggest effective ways to avoid or prevent constant criticism. As a set of guiding principals, as teaching tools, or as gentle reminders, Nolte and Harris's approach to teaching values to children encapsulates the best in parenting wisdom.
Mrs. Nolte passed away from cancer on November 6, 2005, at the age of 81. She wrote the poem on deadline for The Torrance Herald newspaper in 1954, to fill her weekly family advice column. Little did she know, the poem was photocopied and circulated among families for years--often attributed to "Anonymous" as the author source.
It wasn't until nearly 20 years later in 1972 that Mrs. Nolte finally copyrighted her work. It was this year that a baby nutrition company distributed millions of copies of the poem to new parents, and Mrs. Nolte discovered here poem's great appeal.
"I simply wrote it and put it out there, where it has apparently moved through the world on its own momentum," Mrs. Nolte is reported as saying.
A Poem That Touched Generations
Today, "Children Learn What They Live" has been reprinted in 30 languages. It is a favorite of Crown Prince Naruhito of Japan, who plans to raise his own family with its advice.
In 1998, Mrs. Nolte wrote a book based on the poem titled "Children Learn What They Live." This is the first time she earned anything for the much-revered piece. Each chapter of the book -- which has more than 3 million copies in print worldwide and has been reprinted in 18 languages -- is devoted to a line of the poem.
"The book gave her ownership of her own poem and philosophy, and it gave her a platform," said co-author Rachel Harris.
Mrs. Nolte also wrote a similar book for teens, titled "Teenagers Learn What They Live," in 2002.
Throughout her life Mrs. Nolte was involved with family work and children. She was trained as a family counselor, held parenting classes, founded a preschool and was a childbirth-education instructor. She had two daughters, two sons, eight grandchildren, six great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild of her own.
The poem that has touched so many lives around the world was also cherished in Mrs. Nolte's own home.
"She did a wonderful job as a mother," her daughter said. "She truly tried to live up to what the poem says."