Lizs Book Snuggery

How to Build a Child’s Self-Esteem

Selfus Esteemus Personalitus Low

By Leon Goss III; illustrated by Ken Tunell


Parents have been flooded for years with books and articles on how to build self esteem in children. Enough already. Maybe it all began with the popular Dr. Spock of the 1940’s and his 50 million copy sale of a book entitled, “Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care.” Parents ate it up and out the window went something called “personal responsibility.” Here’s a snippet of how the doctor suggested dealing with “stealing.”


                “I don’t mean that the parents

               shouldn’t mention the stealing…

               Naturally the child should return

               what he has taken on the basis

               that the owner will need it. It     

               might be wise for the parent to

               help make up the sum to be

               returned, or to make a present

               to the child of an object similar

               to the one stolen and returned.

                This is not a reward for stealing,

               but a sign that the child should

               not take what isn’t his, and that

               he should have his heart’s desire

               if it is reasonable.”


I think this advice is given to parents of six to eleven year olds!

No wonder we have a value void in the culture if children feel they are entitled to their “heart’s desire” without working a bit for it, and further, that they may take someone else’s “heart’s desire” with no consequence involved. In fact, rewarding a child is thinly disguised in this hair brained, psycho babble advice.

Sorry, but this type of pap gets my goat!

Back to the picture book and its young Copernicus Worrious. Seems he is concerned he has contracted a physical illness. He visits the quirky but kindly Dr. Pessimist who is unconventional. He advises Copernicus that he has “Selfus Esteemus Personalitus Low” that may devolve into “Queenus Dramaticus Flu” if left unaddressed. Horrors!

The cure? “Disease Eradicus” which is a simple mirror, not a pill or a potion, accompanied by the young boy’s glance into it, with the repeated words:


“I am worthy of you, I know this is true

and I don’t really care what others may do”


Simple? Crazy? Not really, as Copernicus finds out what a priest friend of mine proffered to me as advice ages ago. “Liz, what someone else thinks of you, is really none of your business.”

It’s the internal guidance system of affirming ourselves from the inside that matters; and the rest is icing on the cake.    

Some might go so far as to say that we, as a culture, coddle kids too much today. I think the term may even be referred to in the mainstream as “helicoptering.”

And then there is the opposing side of the scale, that may be termed “parenting by proxy,” where children are raised wholly or in part, by other people; not their parents. Somewhere in the middle seems a great compromise. Young parents today are faced with hard and difficult choices, and with families spread all over the map, sometimes little nuclear family support or advice.

But here in a small, undiscovered picture book it perhaps hints at the why of how we as a culture are going about the building of self esteem in young ones in the wrong way; that is from the outside in!

We reward everyone for every small deed and action. Example: “Hieronymus, I love the way you coughed.” Everyone receives a trophy for participation, competition in gym is frowned upon, and the playing field is constantly being leveled to a nice even steven shade of vanilla so kids won’t feel bad. We have a variety of flavors because every flavor is not the same! They are different and different is okay. In fact it’s great!

Some reasonable level of a competitive environment is good. It helps kids strive to try their best at whatever they do. But the key is to be content with what your best is; not eradicate competition in the false assumption that it builds self esteem in any or all. Kids are smart. They know. They get it.

Remember leveled reading groups in school? Kids absolutely knew the difference in ability between the “Robins”, “Bluebirds” and “Jays.” But hey, that’s okay. Because a “Bluebird” can morph into a “Robin!” And a “Jay” can fly up to be a “Bluebird” in time. The key is knowing deep down that you are the best in your assigned reading group, that you can be.

Self esteem comes from the inside; the belief and sure knowledge that you are worthy and that you matter aside from what you attain or achieve. All the praise and accolades then only serve to reconfirm what you believe about yourself.

That goal can never be achieved by destroying the desire to excel.

Perhaps as I read somewhere a while ago, “We are raising a nation of underachievers who feel good about themselves!”

Copernicus learns that he won’t hit a homer always, or maybe even ever. He’ll make mistakes and learn to win or lose, but have fun while he’s doing it. 

Young Copernicus is named for the discoverer of long ago who proposed that the sun, not the earth was the center of the universe. 

Our children, though we naturally love and care for them deeply, are the “sun centers”  of our universe, but not naturally that of the entire world. And therein, perhaps, lies a needed reorientation of the planets, that are our children, as regards modern parenting.

And even young Copernicus is discovering that the boy in the mirror largely decides if he is a success at what he attempts in life. And those attempts, successful or no, do count; they are necessary and they build for success. Sometimes a child may even…. dare I whisper it, learn more valuable life lessons from a failure than a success!

You go Copernicus, and discover it all! And have fun doing it!

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