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An exploration of parent-child play with mothers and fathers of preschool-aged children in India and the UK



Change log


Kulkarni, Krishna 


Ample research has highlighted the importance of parents in children’s lives as well as the significance of play in the early years. This naturally begets the question: what about parents’ play? The two studies in this thesis use different lenses to explore parent-child playfulness.

Study 1: An exploration of parent-child play in India with a focus on the COVID-19 pandemic

Since most knowledge about children’s development is gained from Western cultures, it is imperative to have an understanding of play in non-Western cultures. There is a dearth of research on parent-child interactions and their play in South Asia, especially so in India. Consequently, Study 1 was designed to contribute to an understanding of parents’ play in India.

Study 1 underwent significant modifications owing to COVID-19, with the final study including families’ experiences before- and during-lockdown through parent interviews, while retaining the original goal of understanding parents’ play in India. All six families had children between 2- and 5-years of age and lived in a city in western India. Reflexive Thematic Analysis was used to analyse parents’ responses. The first theme, ‘When I say “play”, you say…’, dealt with what the parents considered to comprise play. ‘The place of play’ included responses about how parents saw play fitting into their children’s lives, and the value they ascribed play. ‘Play in action’, contains examples of parents’ involvement in play, as well as reports of their child’s play with others like siblings or grandparents. Finally, ‘Lockdown limbo’ focused on the pandemic, highlighting families’ experiences as they navigated the lockdown.

Study 2: An investigation of parents’ playfulness using a longitudinal two-parent dataset

The quality of parent-child relationships, including parent-child play, is considered a key risk factor in the development of disruptive disorders and child negativity which, in turn, can increase the risk for poorer outcomes through life. The Healthy Start, Happy Start study attempted to address this through a randomised controlled trial based in the UK. Study 2 used a subset of data from HSHS where both parents had participated, to consider parental playfulness at the baseline, when children were between 1- and 3-years old, and then during a follow-up 24 months later. This included a total of 49 families at baseline and 43 at the 24-month follow-up.

Parent-child play interactions with both parents and at both timepoints were analysed using the Parental Playfulness Scale (PPS) and the Scale of Parental Playfulness (SoPP). The first focus of this study was the measurement of parental playfulness: a high positive correlation was found between scores according to the PPS and SoPP. The second research focus on differences in parents’ playfulness was split into two: for differences between maternal and paternal playfulness, a paired sample t-test revealed that fathers’ playfulness scores were significantly higher than mothers’ during the follow-up. For differences over time, a paired sample t-test found that playfulness scores at the 24-month timepoint were significantly higher than baseline, especially for fathers. A multiple regression further revealed that corresponding baseline playfulness and child’s age significantly affected paternal playfulness at the 24-month timepoint. The final research question for the UK study sought to understand associations between parent playfulness scores and children’s behaviour, according to the Child Behaviour Checklist (CBCL) and the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ). Multiple regression analyses found no significant associations with CBCL scores. However, significant effects of child age and maternal playfulness were found on scores for the prosocial SDQ scores.

Through both studies, this thesis contributes to learning about the importance of parents for children’s play and consequent development. Study 1 adds to the groundwork for understanding parent-child play in India and parents’ roles as play partners, facilitators, and gatekeepers, while also providing insight into families’ experiences of the COVID-19 lockdown. Study 2, on the other hand, leverages longitudinal data to explore parent-child playfulness and differences between parents and across time, as well as associations between parents’ playfulness and children’s behaviour, thereby contributing to knowledge about the role of play in aiding children’s development.





Ramchandani, Paul


child, COVID-19, cultural influences, culture, Healthy Start Happy Start, India, Indian parents, pandemic, parent, parent playfulness, parent-child play, PEDAL, play, playfulness


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
Cambridge Commonwealth, European & International Trust (Unknown)
This PhD was jointly funded by the LEGO Foundation and the Cambridge Trust.