Father Child Play Research for Occupational Therapy


AJOT published an article titled ‘Understanding Father–Child Joint Play Experience Using a Convergent Mixed-Methods Design’ which researched how fathers perceive their play experience with their child and its contribution to children’s development.

As a father and primary caregiver of a toddler myself, this research really piqued my interest. Not surprisingly, research looking into play between fathers and their children is limited compared to mother-child studies. Cultural shifts and with the pandemic, working from home, especially for fathers has shifted to them taking on a more primary role as a caregiver. Many occupational therapists know and emphasize the role of play – all forms of it, for children’s development. Intimate play between the father and child has been a gap in knowledge.

It’s also worth noting that many factors go into this play relationship between the father and child such as culture, race, socioeconomic status, education, personality, and so on. One limitation of this study is that it consisted of primary Caucasians and should not be used to generalize to other races. As the authors mentioned, I would also love to see future studies include more minorities and those from different socioeconomic classes. It would be interesting to see the play styles of father’s from different family styles, including LBGTQ families and other different cultures.

The Study

The researchers conducted semistructured interviews, videotaped play sessions, and used the outcome measures of Test of Playfulness, Parent/Caregiver Support of Child’s Playfulness, and Short Measure of Adult Playfulness.[1]Amiya Waldman-Levi, Amber Cope, Laurette Olson; Understanding Father–Child Joint Play Experience Using a Convergent Mixed-Methods Design. Am J Occup Ther September/October 2022, Vol. 76(5), … Reference List

Some interesting findings include:

  • The older the father’s age, the less they supported their child’s playfulness.
  • The child’s age was correlated with how playful they were (older = more playful).

Themes and Insights

As this study looked at the father’s perspectives, some rich themes were published. Fathers saw play as an important opportunity to bond and build a relationship with their children. This is a good theme to see engaging in play is such an important part of a child’s development. The second theme compared how the father’s own play contrasted it with the type of play they engaged in with their own child. For example, some of the father’s played on their own with their toys and had no interaction – especially with their own fathers. So this seems that fathers in this study are trying to provide their own children with an experience and memory that is better than the one they had when growing up. Very cool.

Another theme that showed the value of the father’s role in their child’s play is their unique style of play compared to mothers. It has been shown that males engage in more rough-and-tumble play and some of the participants mentioned this in their reflections. There is of course the difference in personalities, but gender characteristics also seem to play a role in how the father and child play. What this tells me is that it can be very healthy for a child to play with both their father and mother as they each have their own personalities and play styles.

Occupational Therapy Practice

What this research shows is that considering father’s role in play is important. Not only are they an important member of the parent-child relationship, but their play styles can be very different than that of the mother’s. Occupational therapy practitioners who work with clients should factor in the experience and involvement of the father where possible, such as having the father participate in the occupational therapy session itself.


1 Amiya Waldman-Levi, Amber Cope, Laurette Olson; Understanding Father–Child Joint Play Experience Using a Convergent Mixed-Methods Design. Am J Occup Ther September/October 2022, Vol. 76(5), 7605205070. doi: https://doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2022.046573
Jeff is a licensed occupational therapist and lead content creator for OT Dude. He covers all things occupational therapy as well as other topics including healthcare, wellness, mental health, technology, science, sociology, and philosophy. Buy me a Coffee on Venmo.