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I feel that my kids, after some persuasion, are capable when it comes to schoolwork, homework and other such skills.

We have always identified good behaviour and let our son know when he has done something goood or bad. I have seen that he responds this and it improves his behaviour.

I worry that these days schools focus on technical skills, advanced courses, and general good behaviour. However, they tend to pay less attention to being humble. How do children learn humility? Or is this something that can only be taught through experience?

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Hi Dipan, I've tried to improve the English of your question, if you feel I've altered the sense of the question, please feel free to revert or fix my changes. – deworde Feb 9 '12 at 10:25

4 Answers 4

I think humility in this sense is referring to a characterstic or quality of personality, which is either innate, or aquired. Those that are acquired are acquired slowly, over many interactions or situations where the behavior is engaged in and either reinforced, discouraged, or extinguished based on feedback- or lack thereof.

I think, as a parent, the best one can do (when intending to encourage development of certain characteristics) is to:

  1. Model the behavior that embodies the value or characteristic
  2. Normalize the value in terms the child can understand
  3. Reinforce and encourage any behavior(s) the child engages in which conform to the value/characteristic
  4. (hardest one) Be patient and understanding, especially when this value either seems unimportant to the child, or that they don't understand the value of it

More concisely, I don't think you can or should try to "teach" a child to have humility, or any other value, because that is not how values are ingrained. Rather, you could teach the child about, or the values of humility (and/or any other virtue), and then model and reinforce the behaviors that conform to/embody it.


In my experience, I know that modeling is important to children because I see it very clearly in action. I see reflections of my own good qualities and mistakes in the actions of my children. This is especially true when I notice a change in behavior that reflects my own, or I get an explanation of "because that's what Daddy does!". I also find that they much more often copy behavior that they see than they listen to instructions or commands, or even follow rules.

A concrete example is with honesty. Honesty is a very important quality to me (as I believe it is to most), and I am very clear with my children that lying is never the right thing to do, whether real harm occurs or not. Lying is wrong per se, since it always causes real harm in a trust-based relationship.

With that in mind, I make a very strong conscious effort to never lie, even white lies to, or in front of, my kids. This has the added benefit of making me a better person in general (and living up to my own standards), on top of modeling behavior I expect out my kids. This works exceptionally well with the 3-year-old

As a side note, this doesn't seem to work at all with the 11-year-old, who does not appear capable of admitting a lie to save his life, but that I think is another story entirely. I have, however, noticed that he never says, "But you lie to get out of trouble!"

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The most bang on answer so far i guess! Can you draw from your experience on point 1? May be elaborate more by editing your answer adding your specific experience? – Dipan Mehta Jul 16 at 12:32

Another thing to consider is not focusing on how great they are at school, but rather focus on kindness and the like. As well, don't talk about how smart your child is in front of them, if you are bragging about your child, so will your child.

I have seen this in action, as my daughter who is well ahead of her class in both reading and math doesn't even think about it. She is friends with everyone, no matter her level, and understands that everyone learns differently and at different speeds. On the other hand my nephew, who my sister is constently telling how smart he is, brags all the time.

If you are humble your child will be humble. It is difficult as you are so proud of your child you want to share, however, as you seem to realize, humility is more important.

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It depends on what you mean by humility.

The definition I'm using here is basically "respect for the abilities of others and willingness to accept that just because you aren't good at something doesn't mean it's worthless". This distinguishes from related qualities such as obedience, and allows them to still recognise their own strengths.

As you've identified, this is normally more of an issue among children who are used to excelling in the fields that are valued within their social groups or authority structures, which can lead them to dismiss those values. (For example, intellectuals who dismiss the tremendous amount of work it takes to become genuinely good at sport, and vice versa).

For example, school is designed to emphasise and test two particular measurable skill sets (intellectual and sporting), and in some cases, streams those who excel in those fields, so that they focus on their strong area, and avoid their weaker areas.

One thing that can help is to get your kids more involved in co-operative team activities that require many different skill sets, such as volunteering or drama. This allows them to demonstrate their own competencies, but also exposes them to people who have focused on something completely different, that is nevertheless valuable.

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IMHO this is one of the things you can't teach to your children - you can only live it. You are a role model for your kids (up to a certain age). If you are genuinely humble, they will internalize that. Even though they may behave differently (or even the completely opposite way) during their adolescent years, to explore their boundaries and "free" themselves, they will most likely return to the fundamental values as an adult.

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