Scary pair of floating, pale green pants

Coping(with nobody inside)

I know of a legal representation agency that has been fond of playing Universal Pictures’ movie The Lorax (2012) over and over again for their younger clients in the foster system as they sit in the waiting room. While the movie seems disastrous to me, it has nonetheless got me thinking about the role that Dr. Seuss’s books have played (or that adults think they have played) in children’s lives.

In Coping With Stress: Effective People and Processess (Oxford University Press, New York: 2001) psychologists C. R. Snyder and Kimberley Mann Pulvers openly borrow from the spark in Dr. Seuss’s children’s books to enliven a chapter of the book. The chapter expands on the coping construct—the everyday thinking, feeling, or acting aimed at preserving a satisfied psychological state when it is threatened:

In thinking about your childhood, or the childhoods of your children or grandchildren, chances are that you are familiar with Dr. Seuss ‘children’ books. These books were. . . rich with coping themes in which the protagonist deals with problems. These problems, of course, were of the very impediments that children would meet in their adult years. Thus, Dr. Seuss may have been one of the mayor children’s books authors who offered early instruction about the coping process.

According to this coping construct, there are two possible orientations to dealing with stressful or threatening situations: one that approaches the problem and one that avoids it. Dr. Seuss’s books are an ideal way to illustrate these paths because they show a little of both. In What Was I Scared Of? the main character first avoids a scary empty pair of floating pants and later on approaches it, showing readers (both children and adults) to tackle their own silly fears and teaching an important lesson stressed out in Snyder and Pulvers’s book. For those who don’t know the poem, a snapshot from the final part:

Pants 2And there I was! Caught in the Snide!
And in that dreadful place
Those spooky, empty pants and I
Were standing face to face!

I yelled for help. I screamed. I shrieked.
I howled. I yowled. I cried,
“Oh, save me from these pale green pants
With nobody inside!”

But then a strange thing happened.
Why those pants began to tremble.
They were just as scared as I!

I never heard such whimpering
And I began to see
That I was just as strange to them
As they were strange to me!

Everybody has their own scary pair of floating, pale green pants. And many educational materials have attempted to better prepare children. But is the movie selection at this particular agency, I wonder, a conscious effort to ease foster kids’ early challenges? Perhaps I should approach the clerk next time and ask.

—Alexia Raynal, Managing Editor

Chart from Snyder and Pulvers’s introduction to Coping With Stress: Effective People and Processess
Featured images are original illustrations by Dr. Seuss

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