One of the greatest joys of parenting is playing with one's children. When parents start a game of peek-a-boo or lift their infant into the air, they can put aside the stresses of everyday adult life and become a kid again. Although most children eventually play primarily with siblings and peers, their first playmates are usually their parents. Parent-infant play is a common phenomenon in Western cultures, and researchers have done much to describe its complexity.
Parent-offspring play is found in many other species as well, although much less attention has been devoted to this topic than to play between agemates. We therefore only briefly review the research on other animals (primarily the apes) before turning the research on humans. Two topics are considered: parent-offspring play and parental influences on peer or sibling play. The second topic is important, because long after parents lose the distinction of being the primary playmate they continue to have a significant impact on their children's play in more indirect ways.
Compared to the research on the play of agemates, very little quantitative research has been conducted on parent-offspring play. The literature in this area is made up mostly of brief descriptions of parent-offspring play found in articles focusing primarily on play between infants or juveniles. Fagen ( 1981) described parent-offspring play for almost every major mammalian order, with the great apes apparently showing the highest levels of mother-offspring play -- their play is characterized by the greatest inventiveness and diversity (e.g., Aldis, 1975; Bard, 1995; Biben & Suomi, 1993; Fagen, 1981). Consider the following examples.