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Children Learn What They Live: A Memorial

Dorothy Law Nolte may not be a household name, but for parents across the nation her poem -- "Children Learn What They Live" - has long been a child-rearing mantra. You may even remember it pasted up on your own refrigerator or hanging in your kitchen while you were growing up.

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 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.

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.

Dorothy Law Nolte

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.

Generations later, parents still praise Mrs. Nolte's advice about raising children.

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."

Recommended Reading

If You Seek Emotional Health, There is No Greater Nourishment Than Forgiveness

How (and Why) to Teach Kids to Care


San Fracisco Chronicle November 14, 2005

The Indianapolis Star November 20, 2005

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