Children learn only a very small amount from what their parents say, the overwhelming majority they learn from how they see their parents act and behave.
Years ago, I heard a story that can both be classified as sad and funny. Two young children, a boy and a girl, decide to play “shabbos”.
The boy grabs a hat and says “I’m going to be the Shabbos Abba”.
When it comes time for kiddush, the boy stands up, takes a cup in his hand and says: “Oy, what a tough week this has been”.
The boy legitimately thought that those words precede kiddush.
One need not ask where he got that impression.
So what do children know? They know what they live!
In 1954, noted writer and family counselor Dorothy Law Nolte wrote a beautiful poem titled “Children Learn What They Live” (In 1972 she copyrighted the poem)
Let’s analyze the poem:
If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn.
A great word to describe a child is “sponge”. Children absorb so much. An environment heavy on criticism can seep deep inside of the child, becoming their actual personality. This will result in acts of condemnation from the child.
If children live with hostility, they learn to fight.
Hostility will make children aggressive. The child will learn to fight instinctively, and won’t even consider right or wrong. Children who are growing up in an environment filled with hostility will have difficulty developing skills such as friendliness, empathy and a caring attitude.
If children live with fear, they learn to be apprehensive.
If the child lives in fear, they will choose to avoid fearful things. Since there will be many things that the child fears, the result will be a child that is apprehensive.
If children live with pity, they learn to feel sorry for themselves.
There is a time and place for pity. However, excessive pity will cause the child to have little to no self confidence.
If children live with ridicule, they learn to feel shy.
Some children naturally have a voice. Some require assistance in developing their voice. If the child is developing in a place with constant ridicule, it will mute them. The child will conclude that it is better to be quiet than to open themselves up to ridicule. Hence the resulting shyness.
If children live with jealousy, they learn to feel envy.
A child who comes from a home filled with jealousy will grow up to both be jealous of what others have, as well as feel that others are jealous of what the child possesses. This will be a major obstacle in interpersonal relationships.
If children live with shame, they learn to feel guilty.
Children are naturally innocent, but it takes them time to learn the difference between right and wrong. One who grows up with constant shaming will develop a sense of guilt that will prohibit them from living peacefully. Tension and stress may also develop due to the aforementioned guilt.
If children live with encouragement, they learn confidence.
An encouraged child will have a much lower fear of failure. This will result in a confident child. Confident in themselves and their abilities.
If children live with tolerance, they learn patience.
Patience cannot be taught, it can only be modeled by showing tolerance. If the parent more often than not acts impulsively and quickly, the child will think that patience is a bad thing. Parents need to provide the children with the correct guidance by being calm and showing tolerance (at the correct moments).
If children live with praise, they learn appreciation.
When the parents create an environment where people are praised for their accomplishments, it creates a level of appreciation in the children. Nothing is taken for granted and the child doesn’t view things as being “owed” to them.
If children live with acceptance, they learn to love.
Show your child unconditional love. Always be there for them. Show them that they’re loved for who they are, not for what they are or what they do. Do not compare one child of your with another, nor your child with anyone else’s child. This will show your child that love is not something that needs to be earned. It will also show your child that it is ok, and healthy to love.
If children live with approval, they learn to like themselves.
If the child feels loved by their parents, they will be comfortable within their own skin. A child who believes that they are lacking the approval of their parental figures will begin to hate themselves.
If children live with recognition, they learn it is good to have a goal.
Recognition is the acknowledgement of a person’s status or merits. If parents create a home where accomplishments are recognized and appreciated, it shows the children that goals are a good thing to have.
If children live with sharing, they learn generosity.
Classic example of modeling. A stingy parent will create a stingy child. A generous parent will teach children how to share.
If children live with honesty, they learn truthfulness.
If children live with fairness, they learn justice.
A home filled with honesty and fairness will produce offspring with similar qualities. I’m not just speaking about the relationship between the parent and the child. I’m referring to how the parents and other members of the household behave with people outside the home as well.
If children live with kindness and consideration, they learn respect.
Respect is something that is hard to explain to a child. It is best taught when modeled. It is modeled via acts of kindness and consideration. It is best absorbed by the child when it is constantly modeled as opposed to something shown sparingly.
If children live with security, they learn to have faith in themselves and in those about them.
One of the most traumatic things for a child is when they are abused by someone whom they were supposed to be able to trust. They not only suffer from the abuse itself, but also from the loss of faith in others and themselves. For example, a therapist who abuses the child not only causes the abuse related trauma, but they’ve also prevented future therapists from succeeding with this victim. This is due to the victim now having an inability to trust therapists. Not only does the victim lack the ability to trust others, but they also lose the ability to trust themselves and their own judgments.
If children live with friendliness, they learn the world is a nice place in which to live.
When the home is a friendly place to others, others are friendly back. It will show the child that despite the hardships, difficulties and bad apples, the world is still a wonderful place to be.
The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
If we want better apples, it starts with better trees!
Yisroel holds a master’s from the Wurzweiler School of Social Work as well as the Feuerstein Institute. He combines different methods of therapy and metacognition. With play therapy, conversation, and other methods, Yisroel enables his client to recognize how their mind works. With this awareness he assists them in correcting the deficiencies.
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