Importance of Child Play

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For my term paper I chose to search on any research involving child play and its importance in understanding children’s emotions and behaviors. This topic interests me because I have noticed that most of the mothers I know don’t supervise their children at play. Usually that’s because they are busy with careers and house work. I believe observing children at play could offer caregivers insight into what that child is thinking or feeling.

I was able to find four peer reviewed articles that focused on children’s play narratives to examine different hypothesis. The first article is titled Internal Representations: Predicting Anxiety From Children’s Play Narratives by Susan L. Warren, Robert N. Emde, and Alan Sroufe. It is an article from the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. The objective if this qualitative longitudinal study was to see whether “the internal representations as measured by narratives at 5 years of age would predict internalizing and anxiety symptoms at 6 years of age” (Warren, et al., 2000). Their sample consisted of fifty-one subjects, twenty-five were male and twenty-six female. It was a non clinical volunteer sample which they obtained by contacting mothers through the office of vital statistics. All the mothers who were sought had a high school diploma and had given birth to a full-term child with no pregnancy or delivery complications. Before the children were three years old several mothers were contacted and eighty-five percent declined due to time constraints. Of the sample size only one family was African-American, one Hispanic, and one Asian-American, the rest were white Americans. When the children reached age five all participants remained. “At age 6, however, only 35 subjects remained because the 6 year old visit had not been part of the original contract, and many parents said they were too busy to participate” (Warren, et al. 2000). These children were seen from age three to six. The procedure for this experiment began with the children completing twelve narratives from the MacArthur Story Stem Battery. This meant that the researcher told the child a story and instruct the child to end it whichever way they thought it went. An additional four narratives were given to measure anxiety. Children were provided with dolls to represent themselves and their parents. One story, called “Scary Dog” was reviewed in the article. The story goes that a dog comes to attack the child who is playing with a ball. An anxious child would have run away not seeking help from the parents and the dog would get the ball. A non anxious child would respond by getting help or telling the dog to give up the ball and at the end they would be playing happily. The conclusion was that “child negative expectations related to 6 year old anxiety and internalizing symptoms better than child anxiety, parental anxiety, temperament, or gender. This suggests that child negative expectations may be a useful marker for children at risk for later anxiety…Most [of the narratives] focused on the possibility that the anxious child is anxious because help is not anticipated in difficult situations” (Warren, et al. 2000). The article goes on to say that there is a possibility that the narrative codes are measuring representations of the attachment relationship and insecure attachment has been linked to anxiety disorders. The results of this study show that children who end stories negatively, who show difficulty with stories involving separations, and who show the child doll as being unable to handle the situation are at risk for later anxiety.

The second article is also from the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, October 1996 publication. Can Emotions and Themes in Children’s Play Predict Behavior Problems? By Susan Warren and David Oppenheim, focused on distress and destructive themes affect on behavior. The method included the use if the MacArthur Story-Stem Battery...
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