Every parent would probably be quick to say that his or her child is “the best,” “the brightest,” the “most talented,” or the “most beautiful / handsome” – of course, this is a biased opinion in most cases!
However, no matter how proud we are of our little bundles of joy, we would do well to teach them that being humble and thinking of others “more highly” than themselves are among the best traits they could ever have. In fact, being humble is a common trait among great leaders.
The famous Catholic theologian and writer St. Augustine explains this quite nicely in the quote below: “Do you wish to rise? Begin by descending. You plan a tower that will pierce the clouds? Lay first the foundation of humility.”
How then do we begin to teach our kids to be humble? Here are a few pointers to remember:
1. Teach by example. If you want your child to be humble, model humility in your home and your family. This is how humility is “caught.” Be consistent and look for ways to show them that thinking of others more highly than one’s self is not a weakness, but is actually a way to appreciate the good in others. Take note though, being humble does not equate to being a “doormat” or letting others take advantage of you.
2. Build their confidence. It may seem ironic but humility begins with self-acceptance and self-confidence. Our children need to be taught to have self-assurance. This comes from knowing that they are accepted - primarily by us, their parents - no matter what.
3. Encourage them to achieve and to be the best in everything. Again, this may seem contra-indicative, but your child will learn best to be humble when she actually has something to be proud of – e.g. a good grade, an athletic accomplishment, a theatrical performance, etc. Encourage them to live by the motto: “Do their best and God will do the rest.”
4. Do all you can to ensure that they know and understand where their real value lies. Your children need to understand that they are valued and loved “just because” – because they are your children. Help them to see that they are special and important not because they are “better” or “smarter” than other people, or they are more well-off or talented than others.
5. Never, ever put down or humiliate your children. Remember, humility - like other commendable traits - is something that is better “caught than taught” i.e. something children pick up by seeing it lived out on a daily basis, especially at home. You can’t impose humility on your kids, and they certainly won’t learn it if you humiliate or bully them so they can be “humble.”
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6. Show your child examples of great “teachers” of humility. If you’re a Catholic/Christian, the best teacher would be Jesus of course. More modern “heroes” of humility would be Blessed Mother Teresa and St. Therese of Lisieux. Of course, humility is not a trait limited to Christianity – it is an idea also found in Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, philosophy and other beliefs and schools of thought.
7. Give your children the opportunity to serve others. Start with your own family. Look for ways to serve your community, your church or parish (or other religious group you are affiliated with), the poor, and the homeless. Organize regular trips to places like orphanages, homes for the aged, etc. You may even want to celebrate special occasions like birthdays with those who are less fortunate.
8. Prompt them how to respond whenever necessary. Before more recent times, it was the norm for children to be told to “mind their P’s and Q’s.” Nowadays though, some people feel more “modern” or “liberated” and overlook the fact that kids need to be taught to say “please” and “thank you” along with the basics of daily living. Gratefulness and graciousness could actually be considered “building blocks” for humility.
9. Teach your kids to say “sorry.” Sincerity and promptness in apologizing are crucial to developing humility. Kids need to know that there will be times when they (and even you) are wrong, and they need to acknowledge it. Modelling forgiveness and saying “sorry” in the home will help instil this trait in your kids.
10. Teach your kids gratitude. When we practice gratitude and truly imbibe it in our lives, we indirectly enhance humility too. When we say “thank you” sincerely and often, we are “sowing seeds” of humility in our hearts and lives.