Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Nursing Science

Dissertation Committee

June S. Lowenberg, PhD, RN, Chair; Janet A. Rodgers, PhD, RN; Judith Liu, PhD


children & youth, comfort object, Developmental psychology, Ethnography, nursing


The purpose of this study was to explore the phenomenon of comforting possessions in order to develop descriptive theory based on the perceptions, beliefs, values, symbolic meanings, and feelings of young children regarding comforting possessions. Using ethnographic methods, children with comforting possessions were observed extensively in a preschool setting (n = 10). Two of these children were later interviewed with a parent present. In addition, 17 other children were interviewed in the home or preschool setting with a parent present for a total study sample of 27 children. Several major patterns were supported by the data derived from these two sources. The first pattern suggested that the evolution of comforting possessions may be traced to infancy. Selection of the actual possession may be linked to adult choices in providing objects in the environment. What the adult chooses to provide to the child may be shaped by personal experiences in childhood with such possessions. The second pattern suggested that children develop highly ritualized ways of handling and placing the comforting possession during use. The third pattern suggested that the children's varied use of the comforting possession may be placed along a continuum anchored on one end by nonactivity-specific use and on the other end by activity-specific use. Placement on the continuum may be related to stages of growth and development, gender, and parental inclination to control use. The final pattern suggested that children, particularly those attached to stuffed animals, personify comforting possessions by attributing to the possessions the human characteristics of gender and the capacity for sentience, mobility, role-taking, and communication and interaction. A conceptualization of comforting possessions was derived from these patterns which may be useful in stimulating further exploration of the phenomenon. In addition, the conceptualization may be tentatively considered by nurses and others involved in the care of children. In particular, it may be useful to incorporate the conceptualization into health education information on growth and development provided to parents of young children. Also, the conceptualization may be useful in planning intervention strategies for children who are ill or experiencing stress.

Document Type

Dissertation: Open Access



Included in

Nursing Commons