Children Learn What They Live
By Dorothy Law Nolte, Ph.D.
By Dorothy Law Nolte, Ph.D.
If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn.
I was constantly criticized as a child. I grew up to be extremely judgmental of others. And to be an editor. Which I suppose might be a semi-healthy way to channel that critical impulse in a professional way. (As opposed to, say, being a powerless bitchy housewife, or a powerless bitchy father "editing" when his daughter could put up posters on her walls, when she could watch TV and write at the same time, etc.)
If children live with hostility, they learn to fight.
Good lord, the constant hostility and tension in my various childhood households! My family didn't allow for any "intellectual discussions"-- if I attempted to disagree with either of my parents in any mild way, it was seen as a threat to their fragile psyches, resulting in overt anger/aggression from my father, passive silent treatment from my mother. I was, though, able to engage in some intellectual discussions later, both in high school and college. Yet my first impulse today as an adult is not to feel that I can calmly state a difference in opinion with the assumed result an equally rational response -- instead, I tend to lash out first, assuming beforehand that I will be attacked and so attacking first. Of course, I've had shitty personal relations as an adult.
If children live with fear, they learn to be apprehensive.
I constantly lived with psychological fear as a child. (When was my father going to go off? Ranging from pouting to dumping mashed potatoes on my mother's head to shooting at her. When was my mother going to sneer and not speak to me?) I am constantly apprehensive today, constantly hyper-alert to what could possibly go wrong in any situation, and assuming that something IS going to go wrong.
If children live with pity, they learn to feel sorry for themselves.
I grew up with zero pity.
If children live with ridicule, they learn to feel shy.
I was constantly mocked at home every time I expressed an opinion. I learned to keep my mouth shut at home, only "daring" to express opinions in class at high school. At college, I felt awkward about making intellectual arguments in class for years, often freezing up when called upon by a professor. This sense of inferiority didn't dissipate until grad school, at which time I'd forced myself to LEARN how to speak in class, the same way I'd learned how to order in a restaurant and how to insert a tampon.
If children live with jealousy, they learn to feel envy.
My parents both professed to be "superior" to others, not jealous. As a kid, I believed them. I envied the popularity and self-ease of the "rich kids" I saw in high school, but I didn't really envy them in whole...
If children live with shame, they learn to feel guilty.
I felt extreme shame at how my parents behaved in front of others. For instance, one time when my father dragged me down the hallway by my hair because I'd been watching TV and writing in my diary at the same time, the doorbell rang and a neighbor kid happened to be standing at the front door at the same time as my father was dragging me past it. I was more embarrassed at the fact that the kid could hear what was going on than by what my father was doing. My mother was overtly nasty to me in front of my friends: At a couple of slumber parties as a kid, she took me out of the room to sleep separately because we girls were being too loud; she denigrated me in front of my friends on my 16th-birthday sleepover; she wanted me to come home directly after my high school graduation ceremony; she refused, for no reason, to speak to two of my closest friends when they were at our house. I felt constantly ashamed of my parents' behavior, constantly guilty that they didn't even attempt to hide their ugliness from my friends! (My mother, also, belittled me in front of her two sisters in Germany; she's also, in this day, attempted to create unpleasant scenes with me in front of my nephews.)
If children live with encouragement, they learn confidence.
I had no encouragement whatsoever at home. However, I was smart and successful in high school and got encouragement there, learned some intellectual confidence there.
If children live with tolerance, they learn patience.
I had no tolerance whatsoever at home, learned no patience whatsoever. My father was constantly going on about blacks and women and "ivory tower intellectuals."
If children live with praise, they learn appreciation.
I lived with no praise at home whatsoever. However, I did get praise in school for being bright and talented.
If children live with acceptance, they learn to love.
I had no acceptance or love whatsoever at home. Both of my parents made me feel like shit.
If children live with approval, they learn to like themselves.
Ha! I had no approval at home. Both of my parents made me feel like shit. So, no, I didn't learn to like myself. But some teachers at school seemed to like my brightness and eagerness to do well. I learned to like my success at school.
If children live with recognition, they learn it is good to have a goal.
I was recognized only at school. I did learn there to have academic goals. Neither of my parents got a college degree. My dad constantly mocked "ivory-tower intellectuals." When he joined the Air Force as a young man, he tested as qualifying to become an officer -- however, he was too lazy to complete the coursework. While I was in college, my mom sent me $100 a month. 90% of my college expenses, I'm now paying off and will be paying off until the day I die. Funny from a household that claimed to be "superior" yet didn't plan for their kids' college education.
If children live with sharing, they learn generosity.
Not applicable at all to my growing up. I didn't turn out to be a selfish person, though.
If children live with honesty, they learn truthfulness.
I learned truthfulness only after turning to art and literature and music to escape from my parents' insanity. I certainly didn't "live with it" while growing up. But it's a tenet of my life, thanks to outer sources that I discovered for myself around age 15.
If children live with fairness, they learn justice.
I grew up with such irrationality and unfairness. Certainly, I saw no personal justice. But, as with the above entry, I learned to turn to outer sources for proof that the concepts of "fairness" and "justice" did indeed exist in the world.
If children live with kindness and consideration, they learn respect.
Ha! "Kindness" and "consideration" were not ever a "thing." No "respect" for anyone or anything has ever been a given for me after witnessing the irrationality of my parents. I question everything to this day. (Won't be fooled again.)
If children live with security, they learn to have faith in themselves and in those about them.
After my parents' divorce when I was 12, I credit my mother with providing a roof over our heads and food. (Texas ain't a female-friendly state --- there's no alimony; my father's sole contribution to the household after the divorce was $300 per month in child support---$150 per kid.) My mother, a German, was stable -- hard-working and no drugs or drink -- and didn't have men over. I did have that faith in the stability of the home. Perhaps this gave me "faith in myself" in that I wouldn't put up with chaos in the home in my later relations... and so I've, in my 49 years, only lived with one person... for 3 months.
If children live with friendliness, they learn the world is a nice place in which to live.
Ha! Dear god, how far from "friendliness"! :) I'm so envious of those who grew up with "friendliness"! I can't actually imagine a "friendly" home environment. I've had to learn how not to automatically be hostile.