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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I remember “Wait until your father gets home” very well! It was usually prefaced by, “You wicked child!”
I remember most of these !
Wicked child sounds really harsh these days but was considered an acceptable thing to say to a kid back then.
Remember most of that. Love the embroidery!!
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Haha… I think not much of those have changed…Not in India at least!
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Being the child of farm/comm. fishing parents..who ALL..worked outside the actual home..most hours..any ‘shaping up i had to face..came from my mom. I remember two actual..punishments..as a child. Once when i was sulky..and kicked my cherishd lassie-dog..in a fit of the nastys..and again..when i had ..reset the strong mouse trap..then..tried to always get my mom..to remove it from my hands..since I did NOT..want to..get snapped. Mom got tired of that..real fast..and we have a picture of me..standing outside..with my dog groveling about my buster brown shoes..because i was crying..and freaked! Event. i let got of the bar..got snapped..and never again.. set a mouse trap. The other punishment..was i was sent out the mock orange bush..corner of the house..and had to select/break off a sturdy switch..which my mom would use on my legs. No idea what i had done..but it was the only time. In..later history..i found out that my mother had delivered the news to my dad, the eldest of his 3 brothers..and other siblings..that he w as neverever..to punish me. His over reaction..to pounding his younger brothers..into shape, father had been killed in russia..meant that my mom feared he would ..lose his temper..be too harsh. Guessing my mom..made a wise choice. The drawings of losing thumbs? Dear gods and lil fishes..that would have sent me..UNDER my bed for the rest of my natural life!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ina
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An entertaining and informative comment as always, Ina. Yes, your mum sounds like a wise woman. As for the thumb story, at least that kind of story wasn’t still being used to scare children in my childhood. We were entertained by the stories and the fact that Victorian children were actually threatened with these ‘moral tales’ – although my sister, younger than me was always totally freaked out by that particular drawing! Meryl
I could never understand how my eating my food would stop a child from starving, but I knew better than to argue! I was always told ‘if you don’t eat your meat, you can’t have your pudding’, but I hated eating meat (unless it was in a pie or beneath mashed potato or something similar to disguise it) and was one of those children who would play with her food: in reality I was just hoping someone would tell me I could stop eating it!
Somewhere or the other I’ve still got my Ration Book, as it was still in use til quite a long time after the war ended. 1953 or ’54, I think. But I was much too young then to actually remember rationing.
I remember the ‘Children should be seen and not heard’ expression, it was a throwback to the Victorian era, and was from a time that children were really not regarded as individuals but rather as subservient to adults. Quite wrong, but I do remember having to be very quiet in my grandparents’ company – more so my dad’s family which was a bit rum as they were my noisiest relatives! And my own dad hated me making much noise, though I don’t think he actually used that phrase to me.
I could never answer the ‘what do you want to be when you grow up’ question, either. I simply didn’t know – well, apart from one daft idea I had in my early teens to be a backing singer. It was mostly borne of a crush on some pop singer (and I can no longer remember who) and I thought if I was a backing singer I could meet him!!