The study noted such factors as the mother's education level, the child's gender, and whether the mother became pregnant as a teenager, to be sure they didn't interfere with the results of the study.
The researchers found that white mothers were the least likely to direct their children, and black mothers were the most likely to do so. Hispanic mothers showed the steepest decline in in being directive after the first play session.
Ispa admitted she was surprised to see a high level of interference in the children's play by black mothers. "I had thought that kind of directiveness wasn't working well in white families, but now we know it may not be working in other ethnicities, too," she said.
Dr. Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at the Cohen Children's Medical Center of New York, said the study "meticulously analyzes some nice data and then tells us what we already knew."
He went on to explain that when it comes to parenting, less is more.
"Children are sometimes happiest when parents are less directive in terms of their play," he said. "Children often enjoy playing in ways we might not understand and what may seem inappropriate or illogical from a parent's perspective."
Adesman pointed out that while the study identifies some real differences between parenting styles among different ethnicities and how those factors may affect children, studying play is just a snapshot of what occurs in a household on a daily basis. "But that said, I don't think the study conclusions are artifact," he added.
Ispa recommends that parents provide children with toys like blocks that allow kids to use their creativity and imagination. "Show them some things you can do with them, but then really let them guide what's going on. If a kid is having difficulty, suggest something, but then always move back and let them take over," she advised.
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