Play in a parent's life: A program to enhance the parent-child relationship

Amy Laura Catalano (2002)

For both children and adults in American society, play has become more passive and structured (Louv, 1990). A parent's capacity to play is vital to both the parent-child relationship and the healthy development of the child (Sutton-Smith, 1993). It is postulated that styles of play between parent and child can be equated with descriptions of attachment style. The parent and child who have healthy play would tend to exhibit a secure attachment with a parent who is autonomous and able to fully experience relationships. Parents and children who are anxious-avoidantly attached probably have play that is restricted and rigid. Parents and children who are anxious-resistantly attached probably have play that is indulgent or intrusive and overwhelming to the child. Adult play is manifested in playfulness, cultural experiences, creativity, spontaneity, and humor. This project has developed a program designed to increase a parent's capacity for play, enhance a parent's ability to play with his or her child, and improve the parent-child relationship. The program, called the Parent Play Program, is informed by developmental and object relational theories including those created by Jean Piaget, D. W. Winnicott, and Mary Ainsworth. Other programs have been developed that focus on parent-child play. However, in most of them, the child is the identified client. The Parent Play Program is a health-based primary prevention program that focuses on a parent who is unable to play with his or her child in a healthy way. The Parent Play Program consists of eight sessions in a group format. It utilizes the techniques of drama therapy and parent education. It consists of four stages that include holding, handling, object relating and playing. These stages are based upon Winnicott's (1971) theory of the development of the capacity to play. As part of the project, a component has been developed to determine the program's efficacy through the use of assessment and outcome measurements for both the parent and the child. A case example is used for illustrative purposes to bring dimension to the program. Discussion focuses on program challenges, program implementation and extension, and implications of gender, culture, and politics in play.