Children Learn What They Live by Rachel Harris and Dorothy Law Nolte - Read Online
Children Learn What They Live
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Dorothy Law Nolte, a lifelong teacher and lecturer on family dynamics, presents a simple but powerful guide to parenting the old-fashioned way: instilling values through example. Dr. Nolte-s inspirationó?Children Learn What They Live,O the celebrated poem she wrote in 1954. Written with psychotherapist Rachel Harris, each of the 19 couplets of the poem is developed into a chapteróon jealousy, shame, praise, recognition, honesty, fairness, tolerance, and more. Positive, realistic, filled with a rare common sense, it is a book to help parents find their own parenting wisdom, and to raise children with a surer, steadier, more understanding hand.

Published: Workman eBooks on
ISBN: 9780761157106
List price: $9.95
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Children Learn What They Live - Rachel Harris

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The Story of Children Learn What They Live

I wrote Children Learn What They Live in 1954 as part of my weekly column on creative family living for a local newspaper in Southern California. At the time, I was the mother of a twelve-year-old daughter and a nine-year-old son. I taught family living in the adult education program of the local school district and served as director of parent education for a nursery school. I had no idea the poem was destined to become a world classic.

Children Learn What They Live was my way of responding to parents’ questions in my family-life classes. The poem speaks to their concerns about what it means to be a parent. In the 1950s, parents raised their children by telling them what to do and what not to do. The concept of guiding your children was not widely known. Children Learn What They Live recognized that parents’ greatest influence on their children is the example they set as role models in everyday living.

Over the years, Children Learn What They Live has appeared in many forums. Through Ross Products division of Abbott Laboratories, Inc., a shortened version of the poem has been and continues to be given to millions of new parents in hospitals and to physicians for their offices. The poem has been translated into ten languages and published worldwide, and is used internationally by teachers and clergy as part of the curriculum for parenting education and teacher-training classes. Wherever the poem appears, I hope it serves as a guide and inspiration to parents as they face the most important job of their lives—raising their children.

Children Learn What They Live seems to have a life of its own. Since it was first published, it has embarked on its own journey. The poem has been modified, excerpted, and adapted many, many times—usually without my knowledge. Sometimes my words have been changed to suit a particular purpose. One day I walked into a bookstore to discover, If a child lives with books, he learns wisdom. The poem has appeared under many different titles: Children’s Creed, Parents’ Creed, What a Child Learns, or in Japan, the incongruous The Learning of the American Indian (the interpreter apparently believed that the poem was Native American parenting wisdom). Yet the poem survives.

I’ve taken most of the changes to the poem in stride, but some have conflicted with my views. At one point someone changed the last line to If children live with acceptance and friendship, they learn to find love in the world. I feel it is incorrect to guarantee love or encourage the seeking of love in the world. Love comes from within. A loving person generates love, and it flows from one person to another. Love is not a treasure or a commodity to be found. The final line that I wrote for the poem is If children live with friendliness, they learn the world is a nice place in which to live. This creates an optimistic, positive expectation for children as they explore the world around them.

Now when you see Children Learn What They Live in a magazine, hanging on someone’s wall, or stuck on a refrigerator, you will be able to relate to the life behind the words, even if the poem shows no author or says author unknown.

Changing Times

As the world has changed, I’ve made changes in the poem. The most significant structural change grew out of a greater sensitivity to gender issues. The poem was originally written If a child lives with…, he learns.… In the early eighties, I gave the poem more inclusive language: If children live with… they learn…

Around the same time I also separated one complex line, If children live with honesty and fairness, they learn truth and justice, into two: If children live with honesty, they learn truth and If children live with fairness, they learn justice. Children see honesty and fairness as separate qualities. The change also gave greater emphasis to truth and justice as distinct values. In 1990, I inserted a new line, If children live with kindness and consideration, they learn respect. With the increasingly multicultural make-up of our society, I wanted to encourage the development of respect as the foundation for acceptance of differences among people.

While working on this book, I reflected once again on the line, If children live with honesty, they learn truth. In the mid-fifties when I wrote the original poem, the concept of truth seemed very clear. However, more than four decades later, we’ve come to understand that there are many truths, and there are many shades of gray. So I’ve chosen to change the line to If children live with honesty, they learn truthfulness. I think this conveys a more realistic expectation of children discovering their own truthfulness.

The poem as you see it printed in the front of this book is the complete, up-to-date Children Learn What They Live.

Words Connect Us

Over the years, I’ve enjoyed a spontaneous intimacy with people who recognize me as the author of the poem. One mother told me, You may not like this, but I keep your poem in the bathroom. This was the only place she had personal privacy. She retreated there when she felt she needed quiet time to remember to value herself as a parent. A father told me that he hung his copy of the poem over his workbench in the garage. I read it when I’ve had it up to here, he said. In both these instances, Children Learn What They Live provided a way for parents to recognize when they need time out to restore themselves and regain their