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Parents don't spend enough time playing with their children says Professor Tanya Byron

27th August 2010

One in five parents say they have forgotten how to play with their children, with a third admitting that taking part in games and activities with their family is boring, according to research.

But while more than half the children questioned for the report by Professor Tanya Byron said they want more quality time with their parents, one in 10 said they know that their parents feel family playtimes are dull and a waste of time.

The State of Play, Back to Basics report interviewed 2,000 parents and 2,000 children aged five to 15 about their play habits. It concludes that play is in danger of becoming a "lost art" for British families, with 21% of parents admitting they no longer remember how to play and struggle to engage their children in creative and imaginative activities that will help their development.

"There are four key ingredients to a successful playtime between parents and children: education, inspiration, integration and communication," said Tanya, a psychologist and child therapist best known for her work on television shows, including Little Angels and The House of Tiny Tearaways.

Tanya also headed the 2008 independent review commissioned by the Department for Children, Schools, and Families, and the Department for Culture, Media, and Sport into the potentially harmful effects of the internet and video games on children.

"Parents need to take a step back and think back to how their own childhood games used these four pillars and how they can implement them now," she added.

"Cross-generational enjoyment, where no family member feels inhibited, under pressure, bored or stressed is key to making these four pillars become part of everyday play."

The report indicated that there was a distinct miscommunication between generations around which sorts of games and activities they should play together. This was identified as a key contributor to the problems faced at family playtime.

"Nearly one in three parents choose to play computer games with their children thinking that's what their kids will most enjoy," said Tanya. "However, nine out of 10 children said computer games were something they would rather play on their own, while three-quarters said they would prefer to spend time with their parents enjoying more traditional pursuits, such as challenging each other at board games or playing outdoors together."

Other problems for parents, included time pressures, with half of those interviewed blaming work and chores for reducing the amount of quality time they are able to spend with their children. Over 30% of children were aware that work worries prevented their parents from playing with them. This, said Tanya, "shows that parents need try to put playtime first – for their children's sake".

Parents were also worried about sibling rivalry, with a third of parents citing this as a cause of tension for family play. Many parents also admitted that they felt overwhelmed and confused by the conflicting information that they had been given regarding playtime with their children, with one in ten actually acknowledging that this prevented them from playing with their children.

“A lack of clear advice and direction generally on how to engage children in effective play and deal with problems they encounter is a clear issue for parents," said Francois Banon, vice-president of communications at Disneyland Paris, which commissioned the research.

"Play is vital to a child's development. It improves the way they interact, communicate and develop key life skills. Play should be educational and inspirational but above all, it should be fun."

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