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Access Type

WSU Access

Date of Award

January 2022

Degree Type


Degree Name




First Advisor

Christopher Trentacosta


This study sought to further our understanding of the role of parental playfulness in child development, including identifying factors that predict parental playfulness and its developmental outcomes for children. Drawing from the work of Cabrera and colleagues (2017), playfulness was conceptualized as consisting of both play sophistication and enjoyment of play. Levels of play sophistication, from lowest to highest, are conventional, imaginary, and creative play (Cabrera et al., 2017). Higher levels of parental playfulness have been associated with indicators of child cognitive (e.g., Bodrova & Leong, 2003; Pellegrini, 1980) and behavioral (e.g., Cabrera et al., 2017; Manuilenko, 1975) adjustment. The current study analyzed data from 135 mother-child dyads who participated in the prenatal, 3-year, and 5-year waves of data collection from an ongoing longitudinal study. Videos of dyads completing a free play interaction task were coded for parental and child playfulness and interaction quality. Predictors of parental playfulness included demographics variables collected at the 3-year visit; maternal prenatal stress; and maternal parental stress, anxiety, and depressive symptoms assessed at 3 years. Child developmental outcomes included parental ratings of behavioral problems and executive functions assessed at 3 and 5 years, and child school readiness and behavioral regulation assessed at 5 years. Parental playfulness was positively correlated with dyadic reciprocity and maternal positive affect. Mothers consistently demonstrated higher levels of playfulness than children, consistent with Vygotsky’s (1978) theory of scaffolding. No psychosocial predictors were associated with parental playfulness, and parental playfulness was not associated with any child developmental outcomes. Results provided some support for the validity of the playfulness construct as it was related to interaction quality in the expected direction. However, the results of the current study are largely inconsistent with previous research on the impact of parental playfulness on child development. The null findings may reflect cultural variations in parent-child play expectations and behaviors, challenges with the coding process, or limitations of the global nature of the playfulness rating scale. Future studies would benefit from considering cultural factors that affect play behavior as well as additional play partners, such as siblings and peers.

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