When I was growing up, Dorothy Law Nolte's poem, Children Learn What They Live, was everywhere. It was first published in 1954 and exploded into popular culture where it stayed through the 1970s. When I was little, it was hanging on refrigerators, on posters in doctors' offices, in classrooms. The poem was even plastered on milk cartons and cereal boxes.
Then, like most things, it kind of went out of fashion and we went on to the next morsel of wisdom.
Last week, one of the psychologists at the Ranch, Dr. Megan Spencer, came across a copy of Nolte's poem, made a copy, and put it on my desk. Dr. Spencer is much younger than me, so she didn't have the same childhood memories of the poem - but it immediately resonated with her.
Nolte's poem lays out the concepts of Adverse Childhood Experiences, Trauma-Sensitive Learning Environments, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and the basic premise on which we operate at the Ranch, "Don't ask what is wrong with the child, ask what happened to the child." Before Nolte passed away in 2005, I hope she saw that society's knowledge about parenting, brain development, and behavioral issues was finally catching up with what she wrote so eloquently.
The first seven doublets of Nolte's poem (included here) outline the life experiences of nearly every child who comes to the Ranch. The remainder of the poem outlines what we provide for our children, thanks to your loyal and ongoing support. Feel free to post it on your fridge!
Children Learn What They Live
By Dorothy Law Nolte
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.
In His love,
Joy Ryan, President/CEO
Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch