How Important is Parent-Child Play Really?

Modern Western parenting places a huge emphasis on the importance of play, and on parents playing with their children. It’s generally accepted that part of being a good parent is spending time each day in child-led play.

Now, I’m not arguing that play is not important for children. There is overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Play is vital for child development in many different areas, and is one of the primary methods of learning for young children.

But play doesn’t look the same all around the world. In fact, some cultures find it kind of silly when adults play with children. If you’re feeling the pressure to play with your child, but you really don’t enjoy it, read on to find out how important parent-child play actually is.

Let’s start with the basics.

What is child-led play

Simply put, any play in which the child is coming up with the ideas and directing the outcome is child-led play.

What are the benefits of playing with children

When executed correctly, play between parents and children can improve the parent-child relationship. Children love getting one-on-one time with their parents, and play is a great way for them to learn important social skills.

When playing with parents, children may choose different types of play and think through situations differently than they would when playing with siblings or friends.

(Source: Psychology Today)

Then don’t I need to play with my children?

While parent-child play is beneficial for children, there are several other considerations to note. Parent-child play may not be the end all be all it’s been touted as.

Peer are more suited for play

As I stated before, many other cultures don’t participate in parent-child play at all. Rather, they let the children play together while the adults do adult activities (work, socializing, etc.)


It’s simple. Children are more suited to play with other children than adults are.

Children are wired to play. It’s a universal trait. They have the energy and the mindset that adults no longer have.

Have you noticed that you get tired of playing with your kids after fifteen minutes, while a playdate with a friend can last for hours? Siblings and peers make great playmates for kids because they are at the same stage of life, interested in the same types of activities, possessing similar amounts of energy.

If you have an only child who lacks siblings to play with, consider scheduling a few extra playdates. That way your child is getting the socialization they need, but you’re not the one who has to be down on all fours playing kitty cats for hours on end.

It brings up issues of authority

(Source: Psychology Today)

The premise behind child-led play is that the child should be the one dictating how the play goes. But do you know of any other circumstance in which we give our children authority over us?

Parent-child play can become detrimental to the parent-child relationship if boundaries of authority aren’t maintained.

Children love to get bossy when they’re enjoying some good old pretend play. Is it okay to let your child boss you around for the sake of the game?

I’m personally a little uncomfortable with the idea.

Many parents already struggle with maintaining authority in the home; you might not want to introduce another source of confusion by allowing pretend play bossiness to disrupt the natural chain of command.

Many parents don’t enjoy it

Let’s face it: many parents don’t enjoy playing with their children. And they’re guilt-ridden about it.

Think of it this way…

How intuitive are your children? I bet they already know you don’t enjoy it when they plop you down with a teacup next to Bennie Bear and Betty Bunny.

Rather than pretending to enjoy playing with them, consider choosing some different activities that you can both enjoy. There are plenty of ways to get some parent-child time in without having to fake it.

It’s a modern Western concept

Now, let me preface this with saying that you should never discard an idea merely on the basis of it being a modern Western concept. We change because we learn, and there are plenty of things we understand about parenting today that we didn’t a century ago. It’s good to make advances.

There’s also no reason we should tout less advanced cultures as having better information on parenting because of some idea that they are more in-tune with nature. We don’t get everything right. Neither do they. Sometimes, it’s not a matter of right or wrong at all.

That being said, in this particular instance, we do need to consider the fact that throughout history and throughout most of the world even today, parents don’t feel obligated to play with their children.

Is it bad for them? Of course not. Is it necessary? No, probably not.

How important is parent-child play really? Ditch the mom guilt. There are other ways to get that quality time in. | Mom but not a Mom

Now, I’m not saying that parents should never spend time with their children. You definitely should!

Rachel over at Nourishing Minimalism has some great ideas for what to do with your kids when you don’t enjoy playing.

Don’t feel guilty because you don’t enjoy playing with your children. It’s not going to scar them for life. Children love to play regardless of parental involvement.

Find things that you and your child love to do together and focus on those. I bet you’ll both be happier in the long run.

2 thoughts on “How Important is Parent-Child Play Really?

  1. I agree child play is very important in child development. Playing with our children is beneficial because they will develop vocabulary skills. Playing with other children teaches them social skills.

    1. Play is a great way to help children develop language, but it’s not the only way. Just talking to children regularly and using a good range of vocabulary will build their language skills.

      Thanks for reading, Lisa!

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