BY LINDA SWANSON, RETIRED ELEMENTARY SCHOOL PRINCIPAL
I recently heard a speaker discussing humility. This particular gentleman, Dr. Tony Beckett, was speaking to and focused in on adults but his thoughts caused me to reflect upon children and humility as well. He used a thought provoking definition for humility - walking without wanting to be noticed. And then he taught me all kinds of aspects of humility I had never really classified as components of this attractive trait. I tend to think of humility as a character trait we rarely hear about since, who would dare to think they had the right to write about it? Yet it is most desperately needed in all age groups. So how do we teach our children to be humble? It's a humbling experience for us as well.
Children are naturally self involved. It is quite normal for them to think of themselves first. Give your child something to which they can refer. They usually can understand experiences that they have lived through so use an example from their past. If they are hurt because someone put themselves first remind them of that former instance when their actions hurt someone else. This may help them adjust their behavior in the future.
I am reminded of the time a humble teenager agreed to serve refreshments at a church bridal shower. When I told her she could cut the cake and another teenager would arrange the plates on the serving table she suggested they take turns at each job. I couldn't help but think she had had an experience where she felt she had been given the lesser job. Now she chose to treat her helper as a partner. What a humbling decision!
Since an important part of humility is the matter of considering the needs and feelings of others, children need to be sensitive to how they make others feel. A naturally empathetic child, and there are some, will just do good to others. But some children just have to make that choice, not to be recognized, but simply because it's the right thing to do.
One can't be a person of humility if one can't admit being wrong. We need to show children that we think more of them, not less, when they admit mistakes. Children will encounter criticism, in spite of all the positives parents, educators and extended family strive to provide, correction is inevitable and necessary. So encourage them to face it instead of defending themselves. Once a child can safely talk about their mistakes they will be less likely to be defensive, so show mercy when they admit their errors. When a child feels affirmed even when he tries and fails he has more confidence to take risks and go out on a limb. Always say: "Good effort, I'm proud of you.".
Admitting fault and wanting to do right leads us to being regretful. When we realize our wrongdoing we need to be held accountable. As a principal I had opportunities to help children through an apology making process. I would always stress that the student say, "I'm sorry, please forgive me.” In addition, I always asked the children receiving the apology to use the words, "I forgive you." as opposed to "It's okay" because the wrong action was really not okay.
Good manners are also a form of humility. I remember, with much shock, the time I overheard our very young daughter respond with an "I know," after her grandmother told her how pretty she looked one Easter morning. Well, after all, why wouldn't she know it, her dad and I had told her she looked pretty on this special day. However, we forgot to teach her the humble response to a compliment. By teaching them: thank you, please, excuse me, they learn that the world does not revolve around them. These courteous words acknowledge other people's kindness and consideration.
If you find your children bragging about how good they
are at a game or talking about something they have that
others don't have remind them about their behavior. Take them aside at a separate time to truly emphasize your interest in helping them act with more humility. Encourage your children to use their abilities to help others. Their strengths are actually gifts they have been given to share along with the possessions they have to offer.
Set a zero-tolerance policy toward disrespectful attitudes and talk. Children, teenagers and adults should not be permitted to behave rudely. This is especially important as children participate in extra curricular activities. Make it clear that you will listen to any complaint as long as it is stated respectfully. Then when you hear and see your child demonstrating this by correcting their tone or body language let them know that you noticed their character growth.
Being a willing learner (coachable) is demonstrating humility. Don't expect perfection, there's always room for growth. We all need improvement and children detect hypocrisy in our life. As someone said - our children will become what we are so we'd better start becoming what we want them to be. Let them see you serving others, asking for help and not having all the answers. Model how coachable you are even to the extent of asking them to teach you something they know and you don't.
Being humble is sometimes mistakenly viewed as unattractive. Humility does not make us weak - acknowledging our limitations, looking out for others and asking others for help makes us stronger in the end.
Linda Swanson, retired Southwestern Elementary Principal. She earned her B.A. degree from Houghton College and M.S. in Early Childhood Education from Fredonia State. Mrs. Swanson is a lifelong resident of southwestern New York State. Her early teaching experience was at Randolph Elementary. She currently enjoys substitute teaching and volunteering at Z.E.A.L., an after school tutoring program at Zion Covenant church and also a volunteer for Love Inc.