Nine Parts Flattery

Parenting, Too much praise, praise-greedy kids, praise-greed, Bible parenting
For the last 50 years, we’ve been encouraged to feed our children a steady diet of praise so they can have a healthy self-image and a good life. 

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 Theory
Years 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 Adults
Studies 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. 
Christian parents, we need to lead the way:
  • 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 Ours
    Please 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.

    See top sidebar to sign up for a free subscription to 
    my weekday 1-minute devotions.
    (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).  


    1. This is interesting Gail and definitely not spoken about (there is so much in this)! It reminds me of the new school rules where everyone comes home with a prize. It really does cheapen things and teaches the children that they don't need to practice or apply effort and they will still be winners. The opposite of capitalistic thinking in the business world... With God's strength, we can press on towards the prize and teach our children like-wise. Also, I hear many parents bragging of their children's talents (which they honestly DO have) in front of the children and I don't think that is healthy either... It certainly doesn't teach a humble spirit. Thank you for all the challenging thoughts you bring with your posts and thank you for linking them up with us this week. I know they will bless the readers.

      1. Thanks, JES. This subject has been on my heart for many years because I bought into many of the principles of the self-esteem movement when I was raising my children. My prayer is that Christian parents will begin to have more discernment about these things.

        Some of the most gifted Christian authors and teachers are transmitting this self-esteem philosophy, and I know they have good intentions. But the philosophy is not Scriptural.

        Thanks for your encouragement.

      2. We kind of bought into this too. And now we have some messed up kids. One in particular cannot accept any constructive criticism.

      3. You aren't alone, JAS. Many parents are realizing their mistake as they see it playing out in their children's lives. I pray that your children will realize the necessity of honest evaluation and constructive criticism, especially the one who is having the most difficulty.
        God bless you,

    2. I completely disagree. Yes, the idea of praise has been taken way out of balance of late (along with 'most everything else). But I think this is just as out of balance the other direction.

      Humility does not equal false humility. We *are* good at things. ALL of us are. Because God made us that way, yes, but He made us that way. Children need to hear that they're valuable. That's praise. But it's Biblical - plenty of passages of Scripture center around our value to God. We are designed to need that. Our children need to hear that they've done well - when they have. That's praise. And I believe it's biblical, too. If the Lord can tell them, in the end, "well done," can it really be UNgodly for me to tell them "well done" on a smaller scale?

      What messes our children up is not telling them how amazing they are (they are, because God made them, and God's creation is GOOD), how valuable they are, or that they've done well. It's in failing to teach them, alongside of those things, that they are amazing because God created them and God's creation is good, or that they did well because they were obedient to His Word and chose to act in a way that honors Him. And in our failure to also tell them when they have not done well. Children need to be praised, but they need to hear praise in context - within the framework of a greater worldview that says that even who they are and what they do to "succeed" brings glory to God, because it's ultimately His doing.

      1. Thanks, Rachel, for sharing your views.

        I totally agree with you that Scripture tells us we are of value to God. And Scripture commands us to love and value our children.

        In this post, I also said we should praise genuinely praise-worthy behavior. I agree with you that we should praise children for making choices that honor God. And there are times it is appropriate to tell them they've done a good job.

        But I disagree with you if you are saying that valuing children means constantly praising them or telling them they are amazing simply because they are made by God.

        David mentions that man is wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14), but he does so in the context of praising the Creator, not man. And the passage you quoted from Matthew 25 where the Master says "well done" tells us that only the faithful will be praised and the unfaithful will be rebuked.

        I'm not aware of any Scripture passages that say we are "designed to need" praise nor any passages that encourage praising ourselves simply because we are created by God. In fact, Jesus says even when we've done all that we are supposed to do we shouldn't feel proud of ourselves:

        Luke 17:7-10: 7 “Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? 8 Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? 9 Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? 10 So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”

        Perhaps the sentence I most disagree with in your comments is "What messes our children up is not telling them how amazing they are." Scripture says that what messes us up is our fallen human nature--our sin nature--something we are born with, not something we get from lack of praise. If praise was as important to our well-being as you describe, our All Wise Creator would have mentioned it clearly and repeatedly in Scripture.

        If we teach our children to praise and honor our amazing God, they will develop healthy, honest self-images, aware of their limitations and their strengths, aware that they are sinners who need to depend on God, not themselves. And they won't be dependent on the praise of men (1 Thessalonians 2:6).

        If you want to read more about this with lots of Scripture references, you can check out my Self-Esteem archive that you'll find if you click the "Subject Archive" on my top bar.
        Thanks and God bless you,

    3. Gail, I owe you an apology. It was pointed out to me (even before your follow-up comment that I saw when I came back here) that I missed your last line the first time I read this. I'm still not sure we see totally eye-to-eye (and that's okay), but I did not see that line at all the first time and it totally changes the overall message. Please forgive me for jumping in without "listening" thoroughly first.

      1. No problem, Rachel.
        I admit that I've done the same thing at times myself.
        Thanks for your reply.
        God bless you,

    4. Hi Gail, this post was featured from the Art of Home-Making Mondays. You will find it here ~
      Thanks for taking the time to link up some thought provoking posts!

      1. Thanks, JES.
        I am honored that you would feature this.
        Have a blessed day.
        Gail : )

    5. Good Morning, I heard this from a parent ( We have praised our child so much we have created a whole other problem) I hear your point loud and clear! We do not need big heads, but big hearts!
      Blessings, Miss Roxy

      1. I love your phrase about needing big hearts, not big heads!
        : )

    6. Hello Gail,

      This post in an eye opener for sure! I wanted to take this a step further though and point out that television, radio, and school are also used to teach children that they deserve the world without earning it. Therefore we parents must not only ourselves learn to correctly teach our children, discipline them, and praise them but we must fight against the teachings of those who are in submission to the enemy and therefore want to help destroy our children and families.

      Thank you for these posts. They have showed me how I naughty I have been as a child and how I need to change my ways so that I can truly guide my children in a biblical way.

      God bless you.

      Sierra Foote

      1. Dear Sierra,
        I love your honesty. And I am right there with you. I also have seen life through a non-Christian lens many times. The good news is that we serve a God of second chances (and 3rd and 4th etc.)

        And you are so right - there are many influences in our lives that promote self-love and self-focus and entitlement.

        God bless you.


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