“Humility” is a funny word. Modern culture doesn’t like it much. It has somehow become associated with weakness and a lack of assertiveness. Today we value aggressiveness, extroversion and charisma. And yet humility is the trait most prized by G‑d. G‑d chose the most humble of mountains, Mount Sinai, upon which to give the most humble of men, Moses, the Ten Commandments. Just as much as G‑d loves humility, He loathes arrogance and haughtiness. Self-aggrandizement is abhorrent. G‑d stands back from one who worships himself.

In fact, none of us like “know-it-alls.” We don’t enjoy the company of pushy people who talk more than they listen. And we hate control freaks—those people who are sure they know what is best for everyone else. As parents, we certainly don’t want to raise children who will not be liked by others. We want our kids to be well received and to enjoy positive, loving relationships. We don’t want to be their only fans!

Modern culture doesn’t like it much

So, what exactly is this trait of humility? Let’s first look at its characteristics. The humble person . . .

  • listens in order to understand, and does not try to foist his point of view on anyone
  • gives credit where credit is due, and doesn’t need all the attention
  • is patient with others, and doesn’t judge people for not doing things his way
  • is happy with what he receives, and doesn’t insist on his “rights”
  • can wait and take turns
  • is willing to do whatever is necessary in a situation (nothing is “beneath” him)
  • shies away from self-aggrandizement, and doesn’t brag

How do we encourage these behaviors in our children? First, look for them! When you observe your child exhibiting humble behavior, name and label what you see. For instance, “You waited so nicely for your turn. That was so patient of you.” If children don’t wait nicely, either wait for them to do it naturally in the future, or give them instructions to wait. Once they comply, name the behavior and label it. It’s even fine to reward these kinds of behaviors occasionally: “I like the way you listened to what I was saying. That was very respectful of you. And because you’re really trying, I think now would be a good time to get that book you asked for the other day.” These steps—Comment, Label, Reward—constitute a teaching method that I call the CLeaR Method. It offers a good-feeling form of guidance and reinforcement for desirable behaviors.

Another teaching technique is modeling the behaviors we want to see. As parents, it is sometimes hard not to come across as controlling, know-it-all and arrogant. Our position as authority figures can make it challenging to be directive without showing these kinds of negative characteristics. Unfortunately, children then copy our bossy tone of voice, our hands-on-hips posture, and every other aspect of our behavior that—while seeming to be appropriate in parenting—is highly inappropriate in most relationships. Therefore, we need to carefully monitor how weWe need to carefully monitor how we treat our children treat our children, so that even while we are “in charge” we are still modeling traits of humility. In so doing, we are emulating the leader of all leaders, Moses, who managed to lead the entire nation while being the most humble of all men! We can lead in our own homes with a soft voice, a pleasant demeanor and a respectful attitude. And we can still get our kids into bed.

Finally, we can show children that a lack of humility is unacceptable. Teaching the laws of respecting parents is a particularly powerful way to instill this notion. Once children are taught that they can’t raise their voice to a parent, challenge the parent in a disrespectful way, directly contradict a parent, embarrass a parent, start eating a meal before the parent starts, and so on, these traits of restraint, self-control and humility will be carved into their character and will affect all of their relationships and interactions. We know that G‑d gave us the mitzvahs for our own wellbeing, but it is particularly evident in the laws of kibbud av v’em (respecting parents) that G‑d is helping us mold our character. With a sense of humility, our children will be better equipped to build relationships and weather life’s storms.