I was thinking the other day about things which adults used to say to children back in the 1950s which you don’t hear so often nowadays. It wasn’t just parents who said these things. Teachers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, family friends, adults in story books – they all dished them out.
Some readers who date back to those years will recognise these even if they didn’t hear them all said in their own households.
At meal times;
We’d have been glad of that when food was rationed.
There are children starving in . . . my mum used to say China, I’m sure adults used used a variety of countries!
There’s no pudding until your plate is empty/ you’ve eaten your greens.
Eat your crusts or your hair won’t curl. They couldn’t be said to me as I had curly hair – but I still had to eat my crusts.
In the 1950s, the war was a very recent memory. Six years of hardship and rationing meant that parents had little time for children being fussy about food. It was seen as ungrateful.
These books were a recent memory for our parents.
Children should be seen but not heard. What a dreadful thing to say to a child – but it was something we heard it said to us then. I don’t remember my parents saying it but older relatives would come out with it if they thought the children were talking to much – or just annoying them,
Money doesn’t grow on trees. This was commonly said to children when they asked for something which couldn’t be afforded. When we were a little older, my siblings and I used to joke that it actually did grow on trees for our family because my dad was a forester.
Wait until your father gets home. This one probably has a long history. It is redolent of eras in the past where the fathers were the absolute head of their households and were quite remote and strict. Punishment would be administered by the father on return from work when the work-weary mother (all mothers were home based then) related the child’s transgression. Most modern fathers would hate to be used as a threat in this way.
Your school days are the best days of your life. I promised myself when I was a teenager in high school that I would never say that to a child because at that time I didn’t believe they could possibly be the best years of your life.
What do you want to be when you grow up? Adults probably still ask children that. I hated being asked the question because it used to throw me into a panic! I always felt I should be coming out with something definite and impressive. In fact, I didn’t have a clue. Many of the jobs I fancied as a child (fireman, for one!) couldn’t then be done by women, anyway.
Look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves. I think people talked in proverbs a lot more then. We actually had to learn a whole list of them for the 11+ exam! A stitch in time saves nine. Make hay while the sun shines. Many hands make light work. Too many cooks spoil the broth.etc. By the way, those last two totally contradict each other which always puzzled me when I was younger!
Picture of a 1950s embroidery.
It’s worth remembering that our parents had been brought up by parents who had Victorian parents and some of the rigid expectations of children from that time were passed down through the generations. There were grisly stories written for children to shock them into behaving. These were known as moral tales. There was one collection of stories written in the 19th century which contained a dozen or so such stories. We had a copy of it at home and it fascinated us! The only two stories I remember from it now are Naughty Little Suck-a-Thumb and Shock-Headed Peter. I’ve just looked these stories up for this post and I’ve learned that they were originally written in German by a man called Hoffmann who wrote them for his young son. Having looked up the two I remember best, I am amazed to find I remember every word of both. We read and read that book! My sister was a confirmed suck-a-thumb and was both horrified by and strangely drawn to the picture of the severed thumbs!
The gruesome picture above is especially for my sister – who still has both her thumbs! Just to explain; in my family we weren’t read these stories as a warning. Things had moved on since they were written. My mum found them entertaining and enjoyed reading them to us and telling us about how Victorian children were brought up.
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