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.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Biller, H. B. Father, child and sex role. Lexington, Mass.: Heath Lexington Books, 1971.
Block, J. H. Differential premises arising from differential socialization of the sexes: Some conjectures. Child Development, 1983, 54, 1335–1354.
Clarke-Stewart, A. K. And daddy makes three: The father's impact on mothers and young children. Child Development, 1978, 49, 466–478.
Daniels, P., & Weingarten, K. Sooner or later: The timing of parenthood in adult lives. New York: Norton, 1982.
DiPietro, J. Rough and tumble play: A function of gender. Developmental Psychology, 1981, 17, 50–58.
Feinberg, S. E. The analysis of cross-classified categorical data, (2nd ed.). Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1980.
Gutman, D. L. Parenthood: A key to the comparative psychology of the life cycle. In N. Dantan & L. H. Ginsberg (Eds.), Life-span developmental psychology: normative life crises. New York: Academic Press, 1975.
Huston, A. Sex typing. In P. H. Mussen (Ed.), Handbook of child psychology (Vol. 4). New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1983.
Hyde, J. S., & Phillips, D. E. Androgyny across the life span. Developmental Psychology, 1979, 15, 334–336.
Jacklin, C. N., DiPietro, J. A., & Maccoby, E. E. Sex-typing behavior and sex-typing pressure in child/parent interaction. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 1984, 13, 413–425.
Langlois, J. H., & Downs, A. C. Mothers, fathers and peers as socialization agents of sex-typed play behaviors in young children. Child Development, 1980, 51, 1237–1247.
Lamb, M. E. Father-infant and mother-infant interaction in the first year of life. Child Development, 1977, 50, 167–181. (a)
Lamb, M. E. The development of mother-infant and father-infant attachment in the second year of life. Developmental Psychology, 1977, 13, 637–648. (b)
Maccoby, E. E., & Jacklin, C. N. The psychology of sex differences. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1974.
MacDonald, K. B., & Parke, R. D. Bridging the gap: Parent-child play interactions and peer interactive competence. Child Development, 1984, 55, 1265–1277.
Parke, R. D. (1981). Fathers. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1981.
Parke, R. D., & Tinsley, B. J. Fatherhood: Historical and contemporary perspectives. In K. McCluskey & H. W. Reese (Eds.), Life-span developmental psychology: Historical and generational effects. New York: Academic Press, 1984.
Power, T. G., & Parke, R. D. Play as a context for early learning: Lab and home analyses. In L. M. Laosa & I. C. Sigel (Eds.), The family as a learning environment. New York: Plenum Press, 1981.
Power, T. G., & Parke, R. D. Patterns of mother and father play with their 8-month-old infant: A multiple analyses approach. Infant Behavior and Development, 1983, 6, 453–459.
Ragozin, A. S., Bashman, R. B., Crnic, K. A., Greenberg, M. T., & Robinson, N. M. Effects of maternal age on the parenting role. Developmental Psychology, 1982, 18, 627–634.
Siegel, S. Non-parametric statistics for the behavioral sciences. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1956.
Sroufe, L. A. Socio-emotional development. In J. Osofsky (Ed.), Handbook of infant development. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1979.
Tauber, M. A. Parental socialization techniques and sex differences in children's play. Child Development, 1979, 50, 225–234.
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.
About this article
Cite this article
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
- Social Psychology
- Early Childhood
- Developmental Change
- Strong Variable
- Developmental Effect