Play is an integral part of a child’s development. Psychological professionals and researchers have studied the positive effects of play on cognitive, social, emotional, and behavioral functioning in children. Play therapy has been shown to be a highly effective tool for addressing issues with children who are unable to respond to other forms of traditional therapies. Many experts have demonstrated time and time again the importance of parent-child play time to strengthen the parent-child bond and instill a sense of security and value in a child. However much these effects have been studied, they have been examined far less in the context of adulthood.
Emerging adults are adolescents who are moving out of their childhood home and on to college or careers. These individuals are undergoing significant changes in their sense of attachment and parental dependency and will mostly likely find themselves relying on the adaptive characteristics that were developed in childhood. To understand how parent-child play time in childhood influences the behaviors during early adulthood, Cliff McKinney of the Department of Psychology at Mississippi State University recently conducted a study of 328 college students ranging from 18 to 25 years of age. The students all came from two-parent middle-class homes.
McKinney interviewed the students and found that perceived playtime was significantly predictive of adaptive mental health adjustment in young adulthood. For both men and women, paternal and maternal positive play time and parenting directly predicted the levels of psychological functioning during this critical life transition. McKinney also discovered that the female participants’ perception of their parents’ parenting traits corresponded to the actual amount of time that was spent in play. This finding was not evident in the male participants.
McKinney believes that these findings warrant future exploration and should be expanded by gender to broaden the scope of the results. He also feels that the importance of play, as highlighted here, is especially critical in a time when more attention is being focused on academics and less on productive play. He says that play approaches such as Parent-Child Interaction Therapy and Filial Therapy are excellent programs and that these and other avenues of parent-child play should be encouraged by medical, educational, and psychological organizations. McKinney added, “The parent and child learn and grow together through playtime where the parent is able to help develop the child’s skills through effective parenting practices.”
McKinney, C., Power, L. (2012). Childhood playtime, parenting, and psychopathology in emerging adults: Implications for research and play therapists. International Journal of Play Therapy. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029172
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