66% parents worry they’re not playing enough with children – experts disagree

Our MFM survey with Fisher-Price reveals mums and dads are unnecessarily anxious – and we should just let our babies and children play

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Our big Play survey has revealed that too many of you (66%) are worrying about how much time you’re spending playing with your child. According to child development experts, you shouldn’t be worrying.

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What our experts want to see is you encouraging your children to play independently. Children learn so much from this ‘free’ play and research shows that children who play in their own way, deciding how they want to play, actually do better academically and emotionally later in life.

So we’re saying, let your child do more Child Led Play!

What you told us

More than 1100 parents of 0-3 year olds (thank you!) took part in our Play survey, which we ran in association with Fisher-Price.

Some of the key things we learnt:

  • You’re playing directly with your child on average 2.3 hours each day
  • Children are playing independently for about 1.9 hours each day
  • Nearly three quarters (73%) feel pressure to ensure your child develops at a certain pace
  • Nearly half (49%) feel this pressure comes from other parents
  • 45% feel this pressure comes from yourselves

So are you playing enough with your children?

The simple answer is yes. Playing for 2 hours with your child is a very healthy amount, according to Dr David Whitebread, Senior Lecturer in Psychology & Education, developmental cognitive psychologist and early-years specialist at the University of Cambridge.

But David believes that 1.9 hours of independent play is not enough. And that’s because child-led play is so valuable too. It’s all about getting a good balance.

“The really big concern over the last decade is the relative loss of opportunities for children to engage in child-led play,” explains David. “Children’s lives are much more structured than they have ever been – and there is quite a lot of evidence to suggest this can be detrimental. Parents can certainly be given guidelines about productive ways of playing with their children, but it’s important that play is not structured all the time.”

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So what is child-led play?

It’s about letting your babies, toddlers and children play – and learn – naturally. It doesn’t mean ignoring your child, but it is about giving them a safe, fun environment in which they can play, discover and explore by themselves.

“There is really rigorous evidence that gives a very clear picture that if you want a happy, healthy child who fulfils their potential then don’t deny them the opportunity to play unsupervised and learn naturally,” says David.

“Give children time to play on their own, but provide them with a rich and varied life experience.”

Follow the leader

So, take a step back. And if you do want to get involved or if you child asks you to join in, try to do so without taking over. This is the time when your child can be the boss!

“Often, when adults intervene, the quality of play – and even the play itself – is lost,” says Professor Emerita Janet Moyles from the Association for the Professional Development of Early Years Educators. “Playing alongside children, listening to their comments, allowing oneself to be drawn in at the child’s level, ensures the play continues. 

We need to take the pressure off – ourselves

Not only does our survey show that the vast majority of parents feel pressure for their child to reach developmental milestones at a certain pace. But 80% admit to feeling the need to fill their child’s time with new activities to ensure they’re always entertained.

That’s a lot of pressure.

“Being a parent of young children has never been an easy task, but I really think people are being bamboozled from every side,” says David. “The pressure on young children to perform is extraordinary, and a lot of it is likely to be very unproductive. Parents are under such pressure, even before their children are starting school.

“The obvious thought for parents is that ‘if I want to do the best for my child I need to teach them a lot before they start school’. But once you get into that cycle of worry and pressure from other parents it can be very counterproductive.”

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That’s why we want you to Take 10

Let’s face it, it’s a really tough balance to achieve. You want to give your child the best start in life with every opportunity for learning and development – but you also want your child to be a child and play freely and naturally.

Here at MadeForMums we want you to give yourself a bit of a break. Yes, enjoy playing with your child but also celebrate the times that your child becomes utterly absorbed in their own world of play – leaving you to Take 10 minutes to sit down, have a cuppa and just enjoy the moment! 

Find out more about our Take 10 campaign in association with Fisher-Price – for a chance to win £100 worth of Fisher-Price toys

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