Humility and Positive Self-esteem in Children

by Janet Kontz, LPC

CS Lewis said “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.”  We are able to think of ourselves less when we are not so concerned with how others see us; when we know ourselves from within and realize we are unique; when we can truly say I know who I am. Humility should never be confused with low self-esteem.  If you have low self- esteem, you’re probably obsessed with yourself.  Humility is the character trait that allows us to recognize our weaknesses, and accept them.  It also allows us to recognize our strengths.  Humility isn’t just about acknowledging that which we are not, it’s also about recognizing that which we are.  Moses has been described as the most humble man who ever lived (Numbers 12:3).  Moses was aware of his weaknesses, yet he also knew that his strengths gave him the ability to lead the Jewish people.  He must have had healthy self-esteem or he wouldn’t have had the courage to risk looking like a failure.

When it comes to kids, most parents want their children to have healthy self-esteem.  In recent years it has been thought that the best way to instill positive self-esteem in kids is to praise them.  The article  How Not to Talk to Your Kids, by Po Bronson (New York News and Features, 2007), discusses how research done by psychologist Carol Dweck has shown that praise may actually do the opposite to our kids.  Her work involved testing grade school kids and then praising one group for their intelligence and another group for their effort.  She found that the kids in the group praised for their effort would try harder tests the next time and worked hard to improve.  On the other hand, the kids praised for their intelligence picked easier tests to help them “look smart and avoid the risk of being embarrassed.”  They also tended to underrate the importance of effort.   Believing intelligence is innate renders effort useless.  Students who believed that intelligence can be developed improved their study habits and grades.  “Emphasizing effort gives a child a variable that they can control,” Dweck explains.

This is not to say that we should never praise our kids.  Researchers have found, however, that to be effective praise needs to be specific.  Praising children for their unique strengths helps them to know who they are.  The same is true for acknowledging their mistakes.  A child deprived of the opportunity to discuss mistakes can’t learn from them.  To help your child grow in healthy self-esteem and humility, you can model humility by admitting your faults to your children; by letting them see you serve others;  by letting them see and hear you show gratitude at every opportunity and by helping them to know their unique qualities so well that they don’t have to think about them.

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