Humble kids aren’t pushovers. They’re not afraid or unwilling to express themselves. Instead, they’re actually really self-aware and know what they bring to the table.
C.S. Lewis wrote, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less”. Humility is really just our kids’ ability to consider others ahead of themselves. As parents, we really need to be able to wrap our heads around the interplay between confidence and humility. A lack of confidence brings a lack of humility and then brings arrogance or narcissism. Because a genuinely humble person can be confident without being cocky and they can respect others and be self-respecting.
There are many qualities that influence humility, respect, kindness, generosity, curiosity, compassion, patience, and love.
But within all these traits, the objective is twofold. First, we want our children to have a secure identity, as it is essential when it comes to humility. Therefore, we must foster within our children a secure identity that is not boastful or arrogant, but also not the opposite, that is self-critical or low self-esteem.
And then the other goal is that we all want to raise children who are open-minded, about new information, new ideas, new perspectives, and new possibilities. And it is very difficult to be open-minded to others when you lack humility. Whether you are proud or arrogant, you have all the answers. You are not really interested in what others have to offer.
So here are a few ways we can help build that security identity and stay open-minded – two of the main characteristics of humility:
1. Meet Their Needs
Yes, I know you feed and clothe and bathe them and do all the things. But here’s the thing, our children (and us – every human being) are only as needy as our unmet needs. Every single thing we do is in service of some particular need we have. So the traits and behaviors that we think of that are associated with humility – kindness, generosity, curiosity, compassion, love, patience – all grow when our children have a secure attachment to us. And a secure attachment flows from their needs being met.
But our kids have other needs too – they have emotional needs. They need to be seen, heard, appreciated, acknowledged, and have choice, dignity, and security. All these needs. The more we can be intentional about meeting their needs, particularly their emotional needs, the more secure they are. And the more secure they are, the more humble they can be. Humility is flex in security.
Sometimes I had a hard time trying to figure out what unmet need was driving my children’s behavior, so I created a free workbook you can download, and within it, there’s actually a list of human needs that you can download in the show notes for Ep. 19 That episode is about nonviolent communication, and if you haven’t heard it – I encourage you to do so, it has the power to completely transform the way you communicate through conflict in your relationships.
You don’t have to do it perfectly, but trying to meet whatever needs you observe in your child will create a more secure and regulated child. And that is a child who can show himself in humility. And if your children are a little older, you can use this list to talk to them about their needs. I wouldn’t mention it in the heat of the moment, but at a time when both are regulated, you can print the list and go over it with your kids and familiarize them with it. And then the next time they’re acting crazy, you can work together to identify what they need, and as a parent, you can meet that need for them. And the real beauty and magic are when you have become self-aware enough and have practiced this enough to be able to recognize and verbalize your needs to others. Imagine that your 15-year-old son could say: Mom, I got really upset earlier because I need to be heard and I felt like you were distracted and not paying attention when I was trying to tell you what happened at school today. How does the power we have to equip a generation of human beings who are in touch with their needs and can vocalize them in a productive and healthy way? Game over!
2. Affirm Their Value and Identity
The more we can raise children who know their worth and identity, and who have been affirmed and reminded of the truth about who they are, the less they will feel like they have to prove themselves. When we are secure and don’t feel like we have anything to prove, that’s when we can walk humbly.
It is when we feel insecure and unworthy and have to prove our value and worth that we find ourselves being arrogant, boastful, full of pride, conceited, whatever the antithesis of humility is presented.
In today’s achievement-obsessed world, we need to be constantly reminded in our children’s ears that what they do, what they accomplish, the grades they get, the way they look, the skills they have, the awards they win, the friends they have – these are NOT the things that give them their value.
I came across this quote from Mother Teresa and she said, “If you are humble, nothing will touch you, neither praise nor disgrace, because you know what you are.”
It is so much easier for our children to avoid pride, arrogance, and jealousy when they understand that they are valued simply because God created them and they are our children! So keep reminding them of this.
And how does that look acting? It is a challenge for each of us to be aware of our approach. Every Friday I am tempted to ask Amory as soon as she picks her up how she did on the spelling test. As if that’s the first thing that wants to fly out of my mouth. Because obviously, I have some paradigm around her “success” and my own value as a parent or human or whatever. I realize that worrying about how she does on her spelling test has a lot more to do with me than with her. She is a mirror and she is reflecting back to my on areas of growth that I still have to do.
This doesn’t mean that I won’t ask her about her test or that I don’t care about her academic progress, it means that I check my priorities and want her to feel genuine love from me, before diving right into her accomplishments. She’s probably skeptical that I’ll tell her I love her unconditionally if I’m obsessed with her grades and always ask about her performance before anything else. That would feel conditional to any of us. That’s a lot of pressure on our kids.
Once we’ve had a good bonding moment and she’s out of her school clothes and has a snack and is settling in for the afternoon, then I’ll mention her spelling test. And not just asking how she did or what grade she got, but just asking how she did. If she felt ready. If she felt confident. If she had to close her eyes or take a deep breath at some of her words to help her focus. These are the skills I really want her to have, right? As if she learned her high-frequency words from her, I’m not really worried about it. We all know how to spell cat. She will get there too. But I want her to focus on habits, which help her body regulate itself so she can focus, realizing what works and what doesn’t work for her when she feels some kind of stress like a test. These are the skills that will really serve you best for the rest of your life.
3. Encourage Making and Admitting to Mistakes
How many of us have eaten a big slice of humble pie in the process of making and admitting a mistake?! Talk about humility! It’s hard to be humble if we can’t admit when we’re wrong! And the same can be true for our kids. It shouldn’t be humiliating, but making and admitting mistakes is a powerful way to embody humility. Because we’re all going to make them – we’re humans! So getting comfortable in that and then further, in admitting and owning our mistakes is huge if we want to humility. A big part of being humble is acknowledging the reality of our fallibility. No one gets it perfect all the time, and that’s totally ok.
Our kids need to feel safe enough and secure enough to be able to do so. So when our kids mess up, we need to show compassion, grace, mercy – way more forgiveness and way less judgment. And within that, we’re telling them it’s safe to admit it when you mess up – it happens to all of us. Messing up and apologizing – you can do it a million times and I’m still going to love you.
4. Get Them Serving Others
One of the most effective ways we can help our children remain humble is to have them serve others. So, whether it’s a part-time job, community service, spending time helping others, perhaps tutoring, or visiting an elderly relative, whatever it is, children will learn humility for themselves through these experiences. These bring gratitude, humility, and a sense of purpose, and so much more, all at the same time!
There is much to be gained from serving others, but I think one of the biggest impacts serving others has on our children is that it gives them perspective. It helps them foster their gratitude. Change the way they see the world. It helps them grow in compassion. It might help them see their privilege.
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