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Parent-child physical play: The effects of sex and age of children and parents

Abstract

Physical play is an important vehicle for differential socialization of boys and girls into appropriate sex roles. The aim of the study was to examine developmental changes in patterns of parent-child physical play as a function of the sex of parent and child. Three hundred ninety families with a total of 746 children ranging in age from under 1 year to 10 years were contacted by telephone and questioned about the frequency of physical-play interactions with their children. The results indicated that the strongest variable affecting the frequency of physical play was the age of the child. This developmental effect was curvilinear, with comparatively low levels prior to age one, a peak in the early childhood years, and the decline thereafter. Fathers tended to engage in more physical play than mothers. Effects of child sex were less evident, but tended to indicate that girls participated more often in nonstrenuous physical games with their parents, such as pattycake and being bounced on the parent's knee, while boys participated more often in activities such as wrestling and ball playing. There was a modest but significant tendency for older parents to engage less often in physical play with their children at each age level. The implications of parent-child physical play for sex role typing were noted.

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Preparation of this paper was supported by NICHD Grant #PHS 05951 and NICHD Training Grant #HD 07205-01. Thanks to Stanley Wasserman for statistical advice, to Carol O'Rourke for assistance in data collection, to Barbara Tinsley for her comments on the manuscript, and to Karen McGuire and Rose Tenbrook for manuscript preparation.

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MacDonald, K., Parke, R.D. Parent-child physical play: The effects of sex and age of children and parents. Sex Roles 15, 367–378 (1986). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00287978

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Keywords

  • Social Psychology
  • Early Childhood
  • Developmental Change
  • Strong Variable
  • Developmental Effect