Researchers long have evaluated the roles parents play in children’s development. Now, researchers at the University of Missouri have found that mothers’ directiveness, the extent to which they try to control the content and pace of young children’s play, varies based on the children’s ages and the mothers’ ethnicities in the study, “Patterns of Maternal Directiveness by Ethnicity among Early Head Start Research Participants,” published in Parenting: Science and Practice. In addition, the study found that the more directive the mothers were during play, the less engaged children were with them and the more negative emotion the children displayed toward their mothers.
You may wonder what directive play is. Jean Ispa, lead author of the study and professor of human development and family studies at MU explains that, “Mothers who are highly directive do not allow kids a choice. In our study, the children were playing with some toys, and the very directive mothers were making the decisions about how to play, what to play and how quickly to play.”
For example, during play with her child, a highly directive mother might make her toddler put the plastic cow in the toy barn through the barn’s door instead of through its window. If a child is playing with a pretend kitchen set, the mom might not let the child touch the fake burners on the stove. Mothers often think they are helping their children by correcting them, but they are limiting the children’s creativity and possibly making their children enjoy being with them less, Ispa said.
The study found that European-American mothers are less directive than African-American and Mexican-American mothers during a young age. As the children grow up the study found that mothers of all ethnicities displayed less directives.
When mothers were highly directive during playtime, children expressed less positive regard for their moms and more negative feelings toward them, Ispa said. The researchers also evaluated how affectionate the mothers were to their children and found that higher levels of warmth reduced the negative effects of directiveness. To benefit their children’s development, mothers should show affection to their children while supporting their play and being careful to limit the extent to which they dictate exactly how their children should play, Ispa said.
To read the entire summary of the research study visit Science Daily.