A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

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A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

This research paper will examine and explain how imaginative play via storytelling, doll play or other similar objects provide children an avenue to act out coping skills. By examining this thought, I will help to explain that “Children who live in supportive environments and develop a range of coping strategies become more resilient (DeBord: 2004).” This research paper will answer the question with a focus on resilience and coping: “Do children who play pretend have higher coping skills than children who do not play pretend?” The main character, Sara, in the story A Little Princess starts out in a supportive environment while living in India with her father, Captain Crewe. Sara’s father bought a doll especially named Emily as a special gift before leaving Sara to carry out his military assignment. After Sara is left in the care of Miss Minchin, Select Seminary for Young Ladies, her supportive and emotional environment1 in London drastically changes, especially upon being told of her father’s death and loss fortune. Sara encounters a very distressful situation as her social status changes into servant girl in lieu of being thrown out to the streets. Typically, childhood stress or can be caused by any situation that requires a person to adapt or change such as death, moving, and or abuse.2 Sara exercises her own set of positive coping strategies (doll play and imagination) throughout the story to bounce back in spite of her modified living environment. By adjusting to change, Sara was still able to remain and acknowledged by others as A Little Princess.

Doll Play as a form of Coping

Stover and Berkowitz3 stated that “children as young as 2 years of age have the ability to mentally represent and utilize pretend play to signify actual or imagined events” (708). In the story A Little Princess, Sara Crewe uses her creative imagination skills which resiliently play an important role when Miss Minchin relegates her to servitude and over time she manages to adjust to her changed environment. Sara’s use of storytelling, doll play and imagination are identified coping strategies throughout the book. Additionally, what Sara initially believes as magic from the obvious efforts of Mr. Carrisford and Ram Dass made living easier in the attic for both her and Becky. Sara “pretends” with her doll, Emily. The imaginative discussions with Emily and storytelling help Sara get through the hardships she experienced. Sara utilizes Emily as an outlet for her feelings; therefore, the doll became a coping mechanism incorporated into her new environment. According to Cole and Pierce (2007), the role of doll play supports the child's coping skills in the face of trauma or post-trauma such as when Sara is told of her father’s death.

Cognitive-behavioral4 or child-centered play therapy is similarly observed in the story by how Sara’s views herself in relationship to others and in the imaginary dialogue she holds with Emily. Knell (1997) explains that cognitive-behavioral play therapy is psycho educational in nature. However, the [self] learning experiences designed to bring about cognitive and behavioral changes are associated through play activities. This play can be through the use of both verbal and nonverbal forms of communication. For example when trying to calm herself down, “One of [Sara’s] “pretends” was that Emily was a kind of good witch who could protect her” (Burnett 97). The assumption of child-centered play therapy is that there is a relationship between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Sara’s modified environment influences her perceptions and behaviors. One of these cognitive areas described is observed when Sara, being already hungry, finds a piece of silver fourpence and then goes to the baker woman to buy buns. Yet, Sara saves just one for herself only to give all five away to a beggar child. Burnett narrates this notion of largest or...
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