Parents want to be plenty involved in their children’s development, but new research suggests younger kids may actually develop better with a little less parental input. Researchers from the University of Missouri studied young children during playtime, an important part of childhood development, and their interactions with their mothers. According to the study’s main author:
“Children flourish when they have opportunities to make choices about what they do, particularly in play situations. Mothers who are highly directive do not allow that kind of choice.”
Part of the problem seems to be that adults just try to make too much sense of playtime by sticking to the logical thing. Instead of letting kids, say, play with a car on a kitchen set, moms who are more directive will correct the child and hand him a play pot for the kitchen set instead. Children then become less willing to openly explore their world. Studying children who were a year old, researchers found that black mothers were the most directive, followed by Mexican-American mothers and white mothers. The children of those moms felt more negative feelings toward their mothers.
A mother’s warmth, however, helped counteract some of the child’s negative feelings, meaning a warm mom who was also directive during playtime still left her child feeling more positive. Children feel their mothers are protecting them, whereas children who get directions during play from mothers who aren’t quite as warm feel like they’re being controlled and get less out of playtime.
The study didn’t look into how dads affected their kids during playtime.