Confucius said: “In my dealings with people, do I ever praise or blame anyone excessively? If I praise anyone, it is only after they have been put to the test. It is because the common people acted in the same way that the Three Dynasties kept to the straight path.”
I think it’s safe to say that Confucius wouldn’t have much truck with modern-day efforts to boost “self-esteem” among young people by lavishing them with praise. He would fall more into the “tough love” category.
The meaning of the final sentence is ambiguous. Given that Confucius believed that the behavior of the common people reflected that of their rulers, he is probably indirectly praising the enlightened leadership of the legendary sage kings of the first “Three Dynasties” in China’s history, the Xia, Shang, and Zhou. By extension, therefore, he is contrasting it with the dissolute despots of his own age.
I wrote more about the “Three Dynasties” here.