Guiding Children to Humility and Wisdom

Written by Ryan Evans on February 28th, 2024

I’m a fan of Christmas annual letters, with one caveat: those excessive letters that heap glowing helpings of Jimmy’s basketball exploits, Sally’s unparalleled success in gymnastics, and Harrison’s sheer brilliance in spelling and math. Never do we read, “Betsy barely passed 4th grade and we don’t expect her to make it through 5th this year.” Instead, front-to-back accolades in size 6 font to ensure no accomplishment is omitted. We’ve all read them and cringed.
One of our challenges as parents is to balance appropriate levels of praise and encouragement with honest assessment of where our children fall short. And it all starts with us: How do we manage our own tendency to exalt self? Are we making progress toward selflessness and kindness? To what extent are we discussing and emphasizing the need for humility?
John Stott wrote, “At every stage of our Christian development and in every sphere of our Christian discipleship, pride is the greatest enemy and humility our greatest friend.” We so easily identify weakness in our brother while failing to see the same in ourselves; it is simply an innate part of the human sinful condition. Below are a few areas where we as parents help our children grow in humility and wisdom.
1. Let others praise your kids
We can – and should – appropriately encourage and affirm our children. We are also wise to consider and apply the principle in Proverbs 27:2: “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips.” Whether you have a gifted one-year-old or a high school volleyball star, leave it to others to praise their gifts. Avoid being the parent who pens the fawning Christmas letter or publicly praises your child’s every accomplishment.
2. Affirm your kids for the right things
True humility exalts the Lord by acknowledging virtues such as diligence, perseverance, and selflessness. A good example can be found in how we speak about grades with our children. Rather than praise the grade (external), focus on effort and attitude (internal). The internal frequently, though not always, manifests positive outcomes in the externals. In my experience, effort and attitude impact grades more than any other factor.
3. Teach your children how to speak about their successes
Nobody likes a braggart. A child asked about a soccer game may respond, “I scored two goals!”  Instead of focusing on individual accomplishments, teach him to answer the question differently (“Our team won 5-1”) to take the emphasis off himself. We don’t want our children to lie, nor should we encourage false humility. But they can learn how to receive praise and speak in ways that are not boastful. As we teach our children to “boast in the Lord,” they acknowledge their gifts and successes are by God’s grace.  
4. Develop in your children the habit of praising others
Proverbs 18:21 says, that, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” Humility is well cultivated where words of encouragement are liberally used, and words of criticism, cynicism, and anger are avoided. Encourage your children to build up friends and siblings. By looking for positive things in others and actually vocalizing genuine words of praise and encouragement, they grow in the virtue of other-centeredness.
Author C.J. Mahaney writes in his helpful book, Humility: True Greatness, “Contrary to popular belief, it’s not ‘those who help themselves’ whom God helps; it’s those who humble themselves.”