Words To Live By: “Children Learn What They Live” by Dorothy Law Nolte


I was reading a back issue of the "Grandma Says" newsletter (published by the Growing Child folks – read more about how much I love them here)…and I came across this poem, published in 1972.  Apparently, this poem used to be posted everywhere:  schools, doctor's offices, daycares, etc.  Ask your mom about it – I'll bet she recognizes it. (mine did!)

If ever there were words for parents to live by, this is it.  

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.

I'll be going back to this one again, and again, and again….




  1. I love this–it reminds us to be mindful of our actions and deeds, even around really young children. I’ll ever forget the first time I realized I had an audience: DH and I were having some stupid argument over the phone (I was in the car, on bluetooth) and H. started to cry. He was only 9 or 10 months old and the conversation wasn’t really THAT heated, but I was upset, and frankly, was not speaking kindly to his father, and it upset him. A lot. They’re listening and watching and internalizing all the time.

  2. I love this poem too. I found a coffee cup at a garage sale with this on it and bought it!
    There is also a book that is based on the poem and I recommend it for EVERY parent!
    Children Learn Whet They Live: Parenting to Inspire Values
    by Dorothy Law Nolte and Rachel Harris

  3. Ooooo…yet another parenting book! Sadly, that sentence wasn’t at all sarcastic – I truly am a geek.
    Thanks, Becky!!
    M – Yes. When Mike & I argue R will get in the middle of us: “STOP IT GUYS!” Yikes.

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