Parent Directed Play and Fostering a Child’s Self-Esteem

In our hurried society most families are living by rigid schedules forcing them to be very detailed and punctual. Parents can often be found preparing children as young as two for this lifestyle by “directing” their child’s scheduled play times accordingly. Have you ever stopped and wondered if this parent directed playtime was truly beneficial for the child?

According to a Purdue University study the methods mothers use to control these settings may very well have a negative impact on the child’s self-esteem and behavior. The methods they are referring to are those parents who try to direct and control their child during playtime. Steven R. Wilson, a professor of communication says, “As a result these children were less cooperative, and not only are parents setting up situations that are challenging for them to handle, but they are also subtly undermining their child’s self-esteem.”

The study videotaped 40 mothers as they played with one of their children; ages 3-8, during a 10-minute, unstructured play period. The mothers also completed a series of questionnaires to assess their general tendency to be verbally aggressive toward others. For example, someone who is verbally aggressive is likely to insult others as a way to motivate them to comply or behave.

What they found is that mothers who were verbally aggressive often tried to control their child’s play period while mothers who were less verbally aggressive did not. Now this isn’t to say that guiding and directing our children during play is wrong, some degree of direction occurs on a daily basis in all types of relationships.

In fact Felicia Roberts, one of the lead authors of the study, said “there is a qualitative difference in the kinds of directing going on by these verbally aggressive mothers.” The study not only observed how often mothers attempted to control the play but also how they attempted to control their children. “Moms who scored highest on verbal aggression used directives to control the child and, ultimately, the way the game or activity was played. The aggressive action is not overt, as in a parent hitting or yelling, but these small negative maneuvers can say so much to a child.”

So what can we do as parents to foster our child’s self-esteem and creativity? After reviewing this study I would recommend letting them play! Playtime is how our children learn to interact with the world around them and they learn by doing. If mom and dad are constantly barking directives you have to wonder what they are really learning about themselves and their place in the world.