“Play is an essential activity of early childhood as it contributes to the cognitive, social, emotional, and motivational development of children,” said Kristin Valentino of the Department of Psychology and Center for Children & Families at the University of Notre Dame and lead author of a new study. “During the first few years of life, parents have a critical role in influencing children’s play and developing social and communicative behaviors.” Previous studies have shown that children who are maltreated have significantly lower levels of social, creative and cognitive play by age four or five than those who are well treated. “Socially, maltreated children have been found to be more aggressive and less competent with their peers and demonstrate poorer skill in initiating peer interactions and maintaining self-control.”
Valentino and her colleagues have conducted previous research that clearly demonstrated that infants who were abused engaged in far less imitative and independent play than their peers. Additionally, they found that the mothers who abused or neglected their children used less verbal and physical cues to direct and instruct the children than the non-abusing mothers. In an effort to determine the long-term effects of maltreatment as it relates to play, the team assessed 130 infants, ranging in age from 11 to 14 months, and their mothers, and reassessed them 15 months later.
The researchers found that the children who exhibited more playful behavior also had higher cognitive functioning than the children who participated in very little pretend play. “The findings of this study have significant implications for informing intervention and prevention efforts aimed at improving the developmental trajectories of young children, and abused children, in particular.” The team added, “Given evidence that toddlers from abusing families demonstrated less autonomous and child-initiated behavior at age 2, which is consistent with behavior observed among these children at 12 months of age, it is essential to focus on early intervention efforts during the first year of life.”
Valentino, Kristen, Dante Cicchetti, Sheree L. Toth, and Fred A. Rogosch. “Mother–child Play and Maltreatment: A Longitudinal Analysis of Emerging Social Behavior from Infancy to Toddlerhood.” Developmental Psychology 47.5 (2011): 1280-294. Print.
© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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