Handbook of Parenting - Vol. 5

By Marc H. Bornstein | Go to book overview

9
Play in Parent–Child Interactions
Catherine S. Tamis-LeMonda
New York University
Ina Č. Užgiris
Clark University
Marc H. Bornstein
National Institute of Child Health
and Human Development

INTRODUCTION

The oft-quoted saying that “play is children's work” captures some of the implicit notions that make the discussion of play so complex. Play is fun, exciting, and appealing to children of all ages. At the same time, play is serious business, and invoking the image of play as children's work suggests that children accrue some benefits from playing beyond enjoyment of the moment. To the extent that adult involvement in play supports and extends those benefits, parent–child play may be regarded as a meaningful context for children's social and cognitive growth. What functions do specific types of play serve, and what role do parents have in supporting those functions?

In this chapter, we examine the nature and benefits of two forms of parent–childplay—interpersonal play and object play—against a background of cultural conceptions of the parent–child relationship. We begin by discussing persistent issues regarding play, including the definitions, characteristics, and developmental trajectories of interpersonal and object play. We then consider the various functions these two major play forms serve, with particular focus on the importance of parents in supporting these functions. We then discuss the role of culture in determining the nature and characteristics of parent–child play and highlight how cultural variation in play reflects distinctive conceptions about children and parents, as well as broader ideologies such as individualism and collectivism. Finally, we attend to the potential educational implications of parent–child play.


CHARACTERIZING CHILD–PARENT PLAY

It is de rigueur to initiate a discussion of play by lamenting the difficulties in defining play (e.g., Bornstein and O'Reilly, 1993; Garvey, 1977; MacDonald, 1993b; Millar, 1968; Rubin, Fein, and Vandenberg, 1983). Varied instances of play cannot be identified by means of one characteristic

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