However, instead of improving behavior, happiness, and productivity, studies show that continual praise actually creates discontent, entitlement, pride and underachievement.(1)
Every day I hear Christians use adjectives like awesome, amazing, or incredible to describe their children.(2) Have we forgotten that mankind's problems began when Eve thought she could be like God?(3)
Our greatest need and purpose in life: to esteem God, not ourselves.
A Silly TheoryYears ago, someone started a silly theory (not confirmed in research) that we must praise a child nine times for every rebuke or negative remark. I recently read an article that went one step further. It said we should praise and reward normal behavior and ignore bad behavior.(4)
But the Bible says something completely different. Two of the four uses of Scripture listed in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 are rebuke and correction.(5) These are needed for spiritual and emotional growth.
Scripture says we should feel badly when we do something wrong.(6) Constant praise prevents godly sorrow and eventually destroys a child’s conscience. Loving our children does not mean approving or accepting their behavior.(7)
Praise-Greedy AdultsStudies show that our praise-focused, child-centered methods of parenting have created a generation of praise-greedy adults who can't function properly unless others use "God-adjectives" to describe them. They:
- Demand respect they don’t deserve.
- Are more discontent than previous generations.
- Quit jobs more easily.
- Refuse constructive criticism.
- Have little respect for experience or age.
- Overlook their sins while being critical of others.
- Have less respect for their parents.
- Have self-confidence based on nine parts flattery and one part truth.
- If our child is good at something, teach him it's ungodly to praise himself (Proverbs 27:2).
- If he thinks he's good at something when he's not, be honest and tell him he needs improvement (even if he won a trophy).
- If he does something poorly, help him improve his skills.
- If he’s still not good at it, encourage him to try other things.
God's Purposes, Not OursPlease don’t transmit the lie that we can do anything we set our minds to do. It just isn’t true. The truth: We can do anything God has called us to do.
God is looking for humble, self-controlled, diligent Christians who are aware of their sin nature, sorry for their sins, and aware of their limitations as well as their strengths. These are the people He can use. They have healthy self-images because they are acting and thinking in godly ways.
"I give each of you this warning: Don't think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us." Romans 12:3 NLT
So let’s do nine parts teaching our children to be humble and godly and one part praising genuinely praise-worthy behavior.
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(1) See: Research Shows Harms of High Self-Esteem
(2) See the 1-minute devotion: Awesome, Really?
(3) Genesis 3:1-6
(4) Both of these theories go against human nature. We change when we become discontent with our behavior or when we suffer consequences because of it. If a child's misbehavior is drowned in a sea of praise, he will not be concerned about it. And if it isn't even mentioned, he may not know he's done anything wrong.
(5) The Bible never speaks of building self-esteem. The other two uses for Scripture mentioned in this passage are "teach" and "train."
(6) See the Bite Size Bible Study: Sometimes Down is Up.
(7) See 1-minute devotion: Acceptance Does Not Equal Love).