Teaching Children Humility

There are lots of critical social values we work on as teachers. A few of these include: cooperation, freedom, happiness, honesty, humility, love, peace, respect, responsibility, simplicity, tolerance and unity.

They all have their place and their value but for me I always think that humility is everything.

But being humble means different things to different people.

In Factfulness, Hans Rosling et al (2018) say that being humble ‘means being aware of how difficult your instincts can make it to get the facts right. It means being realistic about the extent of your knowledge. It means being happy to say “I don’t know.” It also means, when you do have an opinion, being prepared to change it when you discover new facts.”

I like this definition because we don’t have to feel pressured. It’s okay not to know and we can be relaxed about it. This is not about being a know-it-all and stops us from being too big for our boots.

Being humble is about recognising the contributions of all those around you. Children might experience success and achieve great things but they can’t take all the credit. There is a team around them and acknowledging that is important.

Teaching humility is important because we are letting children know that the most successful people in the world don’t boast, they acknowledge. Successful people, particularly sports ‘stars’, don’t get carried away and start bragging how good they are. They are graceful and respectful in their words and thoughts for others and the people that help them.

Roger Federer is a great example and the perfect role model of how to live and breathe humility. He is confident without being arrogant and respects others and maintains his self-respect. If you have ever seen him being interviewed after winning a tennis match he is humble, gentle and genuine. He is clearly still proud in what he does but he doesn’t rub others’ noses in his success. He always has a good word to say about his opponents.

Federer is a class act and even though he wins plenty he does still suffer losses. His response though is the same and he carries himself with an unbridled humbleness that is a joy to watch. This is when humility meets greatness. He doesn’t think less of himself but simply thinks of himself less. His humility is laced with true modesty.

As a humble athlete, Federer is the total package of everything we want children to learn – sportsmanship, teamwork, confidence and respect for others.

This calm and modest mindset is something we can share with children and help them to consider others ahead of themselves. We can help model a zero-tolerance for rudeness and teach them how to respect everyone. We can help them to see other people’s perspectives and appreciate their feelings.

Being humble is also being open and admitting to mistakes. When we are wrong, how many of us ‘own’ the mistake and apologise? If we face criticism do we see it as a personal attack and go into defend mode? Or do we demonstrate our humility and recognise what we have strengths and weaknesses? Do we teach children that apologising makes us place our pride aside, and it is one of the most humbling things we can do.

Here’s the tricky part: a big part of being humble is understanding and accepting that we don’t always get credit for what we do. Children might find that hard to stomach but humility is tough to swallow when you first start out.


Raymond Tang: Be humble – and other lessons from the philosophy of water.

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