A Project of the Child Trends News Service Supported by the National Science Foundation

When It Comes to Play, Do Dads Know Best?

dad play

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — When it comes to kids, parents, and playtime, we often think of dads as being loud and physical; however, we generally don’t attribute these characteristics to moms. Researchers who study how parents and kids relate have identified certain attitudes during play that can make a difference in parent-child interactions.

When Horacio Ruiz has spare time to spend with his son, they play soccer wherever there’s room.

“I try to get him to practice a little bit of soccer inside here,” Ruiz told Ivanhoe.

Rough and tumble dad or more reserved mom? Even during play, is there a parenting approach that can better help a child’s development? Natasha Cabrera, PhD, is a developmental psychologist at the University of Maryland who studies parents’ actions and the effect on their child’s social development—especially intrusive play, where the parent takes decisions away from the child.

Cabrera explained, “So the child picks up a truck. The parent might say, ‘Oh, let’s play with this instead.’ So [they] take the truck away and don’t let the child interact with the toy.”

Social scientists followed 74 low-income families of moms, dads, and toddlers, and taped their playtime together when the children were 24 months old and again at 48 months. The researchers observed that fathers were more intense during intrusive play than moms.

Cabrera detailed, “Moms, when they’re intrusive—even though they are not as intense as dad—they really have a negative emotion. They’re frowning. They are unhappy. They are not smiling. Dads are intrusive, but they’re happy.”

Researchers found that the emotional tone of the play was more important than the activity itself. For example, when moms were unhappy and intrusive, children were less sociable. When moms were happy, children were more sociable—early steps toward learning self-regulation and better behavior.

The University of Maryland researchers found that children tended to show more positive emotions during intrusive play with their fathers. They say that’s likely because, even though the fathers were controlling the play, they were more positive.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Supervising and Field Producer; Milvionne Chery, News Producer; Roque Correa, Editor; Kirk Manson, Videographer.

Produced by Child Trends News Service in partnership with Ivanhoe Broadcast News and funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

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