Symbolic play and its relationship to toddler temperament, organizational functioning, parent attitude and play style

Karen Jo Hack, Pace University


Play has an essential role in the development of the child. It is generally seen as a reflection of what developmental level a child is on and an expression of what is on the child's mind, as well as what his or her understanding of the world is. Symbolic play energes during the beginning of the second year of life. It is of particular interest because its appearance demonstrates that the child has developed the capacity to substitute one object for another. He or she can hold onto a mental picture of something and recreate it in his or her own personal style. Symbolic play has been linked to emotional and cognitive problem solving, creative abilities, and emotional well-being. This study examined the relationship between symbolic play development in toddlers and the following factors: toddler temperament, toddler's capacity to organize his or her world and represent it symbolically, mother's capacity to facilitate her child's organizational and representational abilities, mother's attitude towards her child and the play style of the child. The participants of this study were 24 toddler-mother pairs. Symbolic play was measured by the Lowe-Costello Symbolic Play Test. Toddler temperament was measured by the Toddler Temperament Scale. The Greenspan Structural Approach was used to assess the child's and mother's capacities to organize and symbolize. The mother's attitude was measured by the Hudson Index of Parent Attitudes. Finally, play style characteristics were measured by the Play Style Scale which was developed for this study. Both individual and interactive play were considered when measuring play style. Correlational analyses revealed significant relationships between symbolic play and the play style characteristics of attention span and complexity of play during individual play, and complexity of play and interest during interactive play. Also, girls demonstrated a significantly higher level of symbolic play than boys. Simultaneous multiple regression analyses revealed significant predictive relationships between symbolic play level and the individual play style characteristics of complexity of play, persistence, and attention span. A significant relationship was found between symbolic play and combination of individual play style characteristics, as well. Findings also suggest that complexity of play, a relatively general concept, may bear a greater relationship than symbolic play, to some of the factors investigated. Specifically, there were significant positive correlations between interactive complexity of play and 3 of four variables measured by the Greenspan Structural Approach: child's organizational functioning, and mother's ability to facilitate her child's organizational functioning and representational functioning. The results of this study have implications for facilitating play development at home, in childcare, and in early intervention and prevention programs.

Subject Area

Developmental psychology

Recommended Citation

Hack, Karen Jo, "Symbolic play and its relationship to toddler temperament, organizational functioning, parent attitude and play style" (1990). ETD Collection for Pace University. AAI9109385.



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