Children Learn what They Live

I was guilty of it more than once as a parent, which is probably why I cringe so much when I see it now:

  • “Why are you crying? Do you want me to give you something to cry about?”
  • “I’ll teach you to hit your brother/sister!” (Usually accompanied by several hard swats.)
  • “Don’t you ever use such *(!$* words again!”

As I’ve stated in a previous post, being a parent is hard. There are times when we need a break, and no break is coming. Sometimes, under stress and with too little sleep, we say and do things that we regret. I’m not talking about those times, although I do suggest an apologetic heart-to-heart with any children who took the heat.

On a day-to-day basis, though, children become what we show them an adult should be. How important and valued do they believe they are if we are always tuned in to work, the TV, or another electronic device? How do they learn to respond to requests if our response is usually to roll our eyes and sigh? How do they learn to be helpful and take on responsibilities if we shoo them away because they can’t do something as quickly and as well as we can? Do they learn kindness and empathy when we yell at them for being brats?

Haim Ginott put it this way:

We need clear recognition that character education depends on our relationship with our children and that character traits cannot be transmitted by words but by actions.

If we want our children to be kind, we need to show them kindness. If we want them to learn how to give others the benefit of the doubt, we need to respect their point of view. If we want them to speak gentle and loving words, that’s what they need to hear from us. If we want them to learn how to work hard, we need to let them join us and feel the sense of satisfaction that comes from a job well done.

When I was in elementary school, I read a poem that has stuck with me since:

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.

Copyright © 1972 by Dorothy Law Nolte
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