A Biblical Approach to Self-Esteem

Updated: May 4

For the past 40 years, experts have advised parents to build up their child’s self-esteem with constant praise and little criticism. Sadly, the results have not been good. Find out what the Bible says about building your child’s self-esteem.

This is an excerpt from the book Parenting with Focus called “The Folly of the Self-Esteem Movement.”


For the past 40 years, experts have advised parents that their most important job was to build up their children’s self-esteem. Parents and educators were told, without evidence, that high self-esteem was the key to success and happiness. So, with the best of intentions, adults showered children with praise and accolades, whether it was deserved or not. This is the movement that gave rise to the “Everyone Gets a Trophy” trend, where no one ever loses.


The experts also told parents that shaming children when they had done something bad would hurt their self-esteem and cause psychological problems. So parents lavished on the praise, and didn’t dare to criticize.


That praise generation has now grown up; and the results are not good. According to Wall Street Journal reporter Jeffrey Zaslow, in his article, “The Most-Praised Generation Goes to Work,” researchers have found many young adults who were overpraised as children have turned into narcissistic praise-junkies; and they can’t handle criticism. They are so addicted to praise and compliments that they became insecure and anxious if they don’t get it.


College students called “snowflakes” are a great example of what happens when children are raised to rarely receive criticism, but instead are showered with constant praise. These “snowflakes” can’t handle any type of reproach or opinions that differ from their own. These students demand a “safe space” from anything that upsets them. They have been raised to receive only love, praise, and instant gratification, but are totally ill-equipped to handle the frustrations that come in real life.


Employers in the workplace are experiencing the same phenomenon. Zaslow reports that bosses are finding that young workers need constant positive feedback, and have a very difficult time handling constructive criticism.


I often think about Nazis when it comes to self-esteem. During the 1930’s and ‘40’s, Nazis were convinced that they were the superior race. But did that make them kinder, better people?


It’s interesting to note that Scandinavian countries purposely do not build up their children’s self-esteem. Instead, they have a social tradition known as janteloven. One of the precepts is to teach your children not to think they are special or smarter than others. They claim their children have no self-esteem issues. My mother, born in 1927, told me that when she was growing up, parents and teachers taught children they were not more special than anyone else. She also remarked how they had few self-esteem problems in her generation.


So what does the Bible say about self-esteem? Nothing. But there are verses that tell us how we are to think of ourselves.


  • “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought,” - Romans 12:3 (New International Version)

  • “…Honor one another above yourselves.” - Romans 12:10 (New International Version)

  • “If you want to boast, boast only about the LORD.” - 1 Corinthians 1:31 (New Living Translation)


In other words, the Bible isn’t telling us to be confident in ourselves, but instead strive for humility and put our trust in God. The Bible also tells us that the wise accept criticism.


  • “If you listen to constructive criticism, you will be at home among the wise.” - Proverbs 15:31 (New Living Translation)

  • “If you ignore criticism, you will end in poverty and disgrace; if you accept correction, you will be honored.” - Proverbs 13:18 (New Living Translation)

  • “Whoever stubbornly refuses to accept criticism will suddenly be destroyed beyond recovery.” - Proverbs 29:1 (New Living Translation)


So how do Christian parents develop their children’s self-worth and confidence without creating narcissistic snowflakes? First, make sure your kids know that they were created by God in His own image, and they are fearfully and wonderfully made. (Genesis 1:27 and Psalm 139:14.) They are special because they are children of God, and He is their Father. Help them understand that everyone has strengths and weaknesses, and no one is good at everything. God has given them talents and abilities that are unique to them.


Then, praise in moderation. Certainly, praise your children, but only when they truly deserve it. Here are some guidelines to help you achieve a proper balance.


  1. Give sincere, meaningful praise of a job well done, not artificial flattery.

  2. Praise them for their effort and hard work, even if their performance fails.

  3. Praise them for their character and virtues.

  4. Discourage attitudes of entitlement and self-centeredness.

  5. Have them memorize one of the Proverbs about accepting criticism.

  6. Make sure you know the difference between harsh criticism and training. In order to train, you must correct wrong behavior, but that doesn’t mean to harshly criticize. “Parents, do not treat your children in such a way as to make them angry. Instead, raise them with Christian discipline and instruction.” - Ephesians 6:4 (Good News Translation)


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For more about raising your children with Christian discipline and instruction, get Parenting with Focus by Katie Ely.


Want to make new friends and connect with other Christian parents? Host a small group parenting class. It’s easy with The Parenting with Focus Video Course. Just watch the video and discuss the group discussion questions. Easy—and fun!