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Instilling Humility in Children

Instilling Humility in Children

Don't equate humility with weakness. The truly humble person is the strongest of all, as the example of Moses aptly demonstrates.

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Of all the things we want for our children, do we want our children to be humble?

Most of us would hesitate to answer yes, because we tend to equate humility with weakness.

Imagine being told that the humblest man in the world is coming over to visit you. You would expect him to knock very quietly on the door, entering with his head bowed, meekly shuffling to the chair in the corner of the room.

A truly humble person knows he's great, but he recognizes God as the source of his greatness.

Yet the Torah says that Moses was the humblest man that ever lived. Moses! The one who stood up to Pharaoh and said, "Let my people go!" The one who raised his staff to split the sea. The one who led the nation to victory in war. Could you imagine Moses walking into our home? You'd be bowled over by his greatness! But he was still humble.

A humble person is not someone who thinks he's nothing. A humble person knows he's something, but he recognizes God as the source of his greatness. Thinking one is something without recognizing God as the source leads to arrogance. And who would want to raise arrogant children?

TAKE PLEASURE NOT PRIDE

We want to teach our children that they are special, talented, skilled, and everything wonderful, but we also want to teach them that all these things are a gift from God.

Children should take pleasure in their accomplishments, not pride.

They should take pleasure in their accomplishments, not pride. They are choosing to use the gifts that God gave them for good.

Your son could have used his physical agility and strength to be a bully in the schoolyard, but instead chose to participate and excel in sports. Your daughter's academic accomplishments means she used the brain that God gave her for something good. Both children should take great pleasure in that. They are cashing the check that God wrote and gave to them.

HUMILITY ENGENDERS RESPECT FOR OTHERS

Since the humble person recognizes his inner strengths, he has the confidence to recognize greatness in others. An arrogant 10-year-old thinks he's better than his friends, because (for example) he is such a great reader, whereas the child who has humility knows he's a great reader but also recognizes that other kids are good at things like sports, math, science and history.

Only the biggest among us can acknowledge the bigness in others. It's the small-minded person who puts others down. Really big people make others feel big too. We all want our children to know and appreciate who they are, and to respect others.

KNOWING ONE'S PLACE

If I'm not an electrician, it's not my place to tell my electrician how to rewire my socket. I could make suggestions, of course, in a polite, modest and tentative manner, as in, "Excuse me Mr. Electrician, but is it possible that you forgot to put the connector wire in the socket?" Since the electrician is the expert in this situation, it's right of me to ask him, rather than to tell him. It would be rude and out of place for me to tell him how to do his job.

A child must respect the experience, knowledge and maturity of those who are older than he is.

Similarly, a child must respect the experience, knowledge and maturity of those who are older than he is. When a child knows his place, he asks his parents, rather than tells his parents.

This attitude can be instilled in our children by teaching them three simple words: "Is it possible...?" For example, when a mother is trying to help her daughter with her math homework and makes an error, her daughter, instead of saying, "MOM, YOU'VE GOT IT ALL WRONG!" should say, "Is it possible you're making a mistake, Mom?"

"Is it possible...?" turns vocabulary that is arrogant and "me-centered" into a vocabulary that shows respect for a parent. This is an invaluable tool for building humility.

ADMITTING MISTAKES

A final aspect of humility is the ability to admit our errors.

The arrogant person can do no wrong, while the humble person admits his mistakes freely. More importantly, the humble person always keeps in mind the possibility that he could be mistaken.

When the arrogant person finds that his bank statement contains a mistake, he marches into the bank and angrily demands an explanation for sloppy performance! The humble person, on the other hand, first takes a moment to consider the possibility that the mistake may have been his own. He then takes the statement to the bank and politely asks the teller to check the figures. He doesn't accuse, he asks.

TOOLS FOR INSTILLING HUMILTY IN CHILDREN

#1: Don't let parental power go to your head.

The best way to our teach children is by example. An arrogant person can never teach humility. Since being a parent means we're in a position of authority, it's easy to slip into arrogance. "HOW DARE YOU DISOBEY ME!" is not the right way to react to a child who is not listening. Our job is to teach patiently and respectfully. The very manner in which we deal with our children's misbehavior can be one of the strongest tools for teaching humility. When we educate quietly, without yelling or insulting, we model humility.

Maimonides, the 12th century scholar and philosopher said, "Speak gently to all people at all times." Children are people too, even when they disobey you. Speak gently, maintain your dignity and theirs. If you think that the only way they will listen is if you yell, then you are not disciplining properly.

#2: Kids should ask, not tell.

Parents must not only model behavior, they must also verbally teach it. When a child raises his voice to a parent, he must be corrected. Teach your children two rules:

  • ask instead of tell, and

  • speak in a pleasant tone of voice.

The three magic words are: "Is it possible...?" The question helps to foster humility in a child. It is important that children realize that adults, particularly parents, have a different status than children. Adults have more experience, knowledge, and authority than children. It is beneficial for children to look up to, rather than across, at adults. It enables them to learn the art of learning from others. An arrogant child can't learn from anyone.

#3: Don't tolerate disrespectful speech

The young child who is rude and disrespectful will grow into an even ruder teen who may actually swear and curse his parents. These behaviors don't arrive suddenly with puberty. They develop many years earlier from unchecked arrogance.

The following five-step program will help correct speech errors and foster respect and humility. Start with the first step and only proceed to the next one if necessary:

  1. TEACH the child what you mean by "respectful" speech. Use examples and role-playing.

  2. REMIND the child to use respectful speech and model it for him.

  3. PROMPT the child during occurrences of disrespectful speech with: "tone of voice," or "speaking quietly please," or give the child the first few words: "Mommy, is it possible you forgot...?"

  4. BLOCK disrespectful speech with: "I beg your pardon?" or "Excuse me?" or "Would you like to try that again more respectfully please?" As soon as the child corrects himself, the parent offers generous praise.

  5. DISCIPLINE if necessary. When the child speaks disrespectfully, the parent might say something like, "We've been working on speaking respectfully for quite awhile now and I think you know what you're supposed to do. From now on, if you raise your voice, use impolite words or demand instead of ask, you will have to write out the rules of respectful speech ten times." (You can choose another suitable consequence, of course.)

When teaching a child to speak with greater humility and respect, be patient! It can take many years for children to really integrate these speech patterns into their automatic behaviors. Consistency on the part of parents greatly speeds up the process, as does concurrent modeling, generous praise and an overall positive relationship.

As your child grows and learns to speak in a respectful manner, he or she will naturally come to speak to everyone like that -- to adults and to peers. Humility will become a way of life and the respect that flows from humility a matter of course.

You, the parent, will have given your child a priceless gift, the gift of humility.

Published: March 11, 2000


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Visitor Comments: 13

(13) Anonymous, June 19, 2014 5:54 AM

Great ! Now I know how to put humility into practice.

(12) Lefteris, June 25, 2012 9:07 PM

very useful information

I have the responsibility of raising a child. I have an extremely advanced verbally 4 year old (he sounds like a six year old) but emotionally he has the maturity of a four year old. I read allowed the whole entry and to him and it had a calming effect. It helped resolve an immediate crisis but also showed the value of religious teachings even if you are not from the same religion or even as in my case you have none. So thanks.

(11) Evangelist Fitzgerald Johnson, November 22, 2011 4:39 PM

I think this is good

May the lord bless you guys as you give us a true picture of parenting indeed. May the lord richly bless you guys always.

(10) Amal, April 28, 2011 1:14 AM

Thanks for this lovely article. I'm Muslim however I enjoyed this article. All religions are beautiful and try to instill great ideals in us. It's just a matter of us realizing that. Again, awesome article. Thank you so much!

(9) Srini Venkataramani, January 25, 2011 8:46 AM

Thank you - that was a good lesson

I don't even have kids yet, but I worry about this. Here's the challenging part. I am not as humble as I'd like. And yet the primary quality that I'd like in my future child is that of humility - in exactly the way you describe. How does one pull that off?

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