Dr Jacqueline Harding has been working with Fisher Price to explore the benefits of play for children and adult carers.
Bio-behavioural synchrony is key to the wellbeing of parents/carers and young children. In simple terms, it’s achieved through being in positive close proximity and maintaining eye to eye contact – that way they share neurobiological and physiological responses. In other words, their emotional states mirror each other. Despite well established research that confirms the notion of play for young children as fundamental to their development and acknowledged as a source of potential opportunity for playful interaction between parent/carer and child, little is known of the benefits afforded to parents/carers. Specifically, the paper draws upon international research concerning the possible impact of playful interactions between parents/carers and their young children, particularly when play objects are involved. Furthermore, it explores the potential benefits to parent/carers (and older adults) in terms of stress reduction and general wellbeing whilst acknowledging the more established benefits to children. As very few studies have given direct attention to the affordances of play to the parents/carers whilst they play with their under three year olds, this paper is a summary of significant findings predominantly from the last two decades that draws upon a variety of related disciplines. A themed approach was adopted.The paper discusses interpersonal neurobiology and the oxytocinergic system; the notion of synchrony and reciprocal responsiveness; the bio-behavioural feedback loop; higher triadic synchrony and proximity seeking, and the exploration of the use of ‘common ground’ associated with objects/toys. Finally, the emerging work of intergenerational initiatives and gerotranscendence is explored. The review demonstrates a consistency in results regarding chemical production and brain states involved in parent/carer – child bonding and highlights exciting links to studies in related fields that indicate an evolving understanding of mutual benefits for parent/carer and child whilst engaged in play. The work concludes with recommendations for future research within this important area of wellbeing.
A book on the topic has been commissioned by Bloomsbury.