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Little Jack Horner, stuck in the corner

By Giulio Bortolozzo - posted Wednesday, 10 October 2012

The rhyme,Little Jack Horner, carries a conditional-worth message: Your worth depends on what you do. Remember the rhyme?

Little Jack Horner, sat in the corner, eating a Christmas pie. He put in his thumb, and pulled out a plum, and said 'What a good boy am I!

Is it possible that Jack was a good boy because he pulled out a plum from the Christmas pie? What if he missed the plumb would this make him a bad person? This illustrates the problem with conditional-worth thinking.


It is often self-defeating to rate your worth according to how well (or badly) you perform at certain tasks. If you discover the plumb, that is great, if not, too bad.

Rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT) teaches that doing and being are different ideas. Consider the following rework of this popular children's rhyme.

Little Jack Horner sat in the corner reflecting on the day. I succeeded once. I mucked up twice. But, I am always OK!

Young people can benefit greatly by understanding and developing unconditional self-acceptance (USA). You will not always like the results of your actions but you can still choose to accept yourself as worthwhile despite your foibles, faults, and mistakes. You also need not falsely elevate yourself if you have a great day. That too, is a conditional-worth issue.

A self-accepting child will normally appreciate that some failure is inevitable but will not take it too seriously when it occurs i.e. "I am not a failure for failing at X." This type of believing is a formula for resilience. It correlates with a self-efficacy belief: "I can organize, coordinate, and execute actions to reach worthy goals." Self-efficacy correlates with higher school grades.

You may be thinking, "What can I do as an educator or parent to promote a habit of believing in yourself?" Before I get into that, I'd like to take you on a quick tour of how to apply USA to yourself.


The Rational Teacher

Albert Ellis, the founder of REBT, was renowned for creating rational songs for audiences to sing, for his brand of humour, and for his colorful phrases. Ellis would often use these techniques to help people challenge negative self-views that are based on conditional self-acceptance (CSA).

Here is an adult CSA example:

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About the Author

Giulio Bortolozzo is an education consultant and counsellor.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Giulio Bortolozzo

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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