"Play teaches us how to manage and transform our negative emotions and experiences," it says on a helpguide.org creativity and lifelong learning fact sheet. "It supercharges learning, helps us relieve stress, and connects us to others and the world around us. Play can also make work more productive and pleasurable."
It is in play that young children may first learn flexibility, perseverance, cooperation and social skills.
The researchers found that even when moms were quite directive, guiding kids in how to play, those who were very warm had children who appeared less bothered by it. If, on the other hand, a mom was more negative, it intensified the negative response from the child.
Studies repeatedly show that correcting a small child's play limits creativity, although the goal was probably simply to help the child. It might also make children not enjoy being with a directive mom, the researchers said.
They suggested that moms should show affection while playing, but limit how much they direct or control how the playtime unfolds.
"We know that children, regardless of culture, need to feel loved," Ispa said in a statement accompanying the study. "Children take in the meaning of what their mothers are trying to do, so if a mom is being very directive and is generally a very warm person, I think the child feels, 'My mom is doing this because she cares about me, and she's trying to do the best for me.' If the warmth is missing, then the child might feel, 'My mom is trying to control me and I don't like it.'"
A father's influence
Research suggests that interactions with fathers and mothers may contribute different things to a child's development. For instance, a study pubished last summer in the Journal of Early Adolescence by researchers from Brigham Young University found that fathers are key to helping children develop persistence.
The study looked at parenting style and, like the current research, found that the relationship's dynamics have a bit impact on how a child develops certain traits. Unlike the low-income Head Start families that Ispa studied, though, BYU researcher Laura Padilla-Walker and her colleagues focused on families that were not disadvantaged, but rather those that were flourishing to see if they could determine why some families fare particularly well.
They found those dads who do best are the ones with close, loving relationshios with their children, but who set clear boundaries. Also important — and in line with a key finding in Ispa's study — is the need to give children an appropriate amount of freedom.
The results of the new study were published in the journal Parenting: Science and Practice. Ispa's co-authors included Duane Rudy, associate professor of human development and family studies at MU, and researchers from Arizona State University, the University of California at Los Angeles, the University of Connecticut, the University of Maryland and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
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