Let's play a game. Envision you and all your friends standing in a room together. Picture that group of people, all different from one another in their own unique ways. Now ask yourself, if you were to rank those people from the best overall person in the group to the worst, where would you rank yourself?
It's an interesting conundrum. If you rank yourself as #1, then another person could claim that your are cocky because you placed yourself above everyone else. On the other hand, if you ranked yourself low, then someone could ask you why you don't have more confidence in yourself. For young children, this can be a fine line to walk. We want our children to believe in themselves, be proud of who they are, and know that they can do great things if they put their mind to it. But at the same time, we want them to know that it is not all about them and, quite often, there will be someone out there who is bigger, better, stronger, or smarter than them.
The problem comes to be when the needle leans too far in either direction. Too much confidence leads to ego and pride, while too little leads to anxiety and worry. But the perfect blend of the two results in a character trait that all children (and adults) should aim for: humility.
Confidence and humility are not mutually exclusive of one another. In fact, I would argue that only people who are truly confident in themselves are able to be humble. A lot of the time, bragging and prideful ego stems from a desire to prove a person's worth. But if you are satisfied with who you are as a person and the path you are on, then you have no problem letting others go ahead of you. As C.S. Lewis said, "Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it's thinking of yourself less." Humility is not about doubting your own abilities, it's about recognizing your strengths and being confident enough in them to recognize your own need for improvement and the positive qualities of other people (which you may able to learn from).
When I teach our school's leadership team to work with children, something I try to drill home is how important it is for student's to hear not only what they did wrong, but what they did correctly. Student's who hear positive and appropriate praise form an image of themselves that empowers them to continue trying harder. Please don't misunderstand me. We don't praise children even when they do a "bad job." Rather, we make sure to highlight success, no matter how small it may be.
It is not only important for students to hear praise about themselves. Children need to be taught to praise one another. For example, in our martial arts classes, I will often ask a student to demonstrate a technique or stance. I will then ask the other students what the first student did correctly. This normalizes not only me praising the student, but them hearing positive feedback from their peers. It also gives the other children an opportunity to acknowledge the strengths of their classmates, knowing fully that it doesn't negatively impact their own performance and strength. Remember, humility is not putting yourself down, but rather lifting others up before yourself because, in the end, you are already confident in your own abilities.
When you combine these two aspects of praising children, in addition to having them practice praising others, it creates confidence while still underscoring that there are others out there who are just as good, if not better. This stops students from getting cocky.
Humility Pays Off
People who have to boast about how good they are are often compensating for something. I don't know about you, but whenever I hear someone continuously praise themself, I usually end up rolling my eyes instead of staring in adoration. But when a person is humble and places themself low on the totem pole, then there is only opportunity to be raised up. When we line up by seniority in our martial arts classes, it is better to line up at the end and be told to move up rather than taking the senior position and be told you don't belong there. Bragging earns little to no respect, but being humble shows you respect yourself and others.
Do you or your child want to develop the life skills to be both confident and humble? Contact Trinity Martial Arts to find out more about our martial arts program, focusing on traditional martial arts, self-defense, and positive character traits needed to succeed in life!
About the Author
Master Matthew Eyler is a 4th degree black belt in the Korean martial art of Tang Soo Do and a New York State certified general and special education teacher. He has over 20 years experience practicing self-defense and teaching students of all ages and abilities.