Parent-child symbolic pay: Three theories in search of an effect

Marc H. Bornstein, Catherine S. Tamis-LeMonda

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In symbolic play, children construct increasingly sophisticated representations of the world as well as relations between symbols and their external referents as they advance upon their developing cognitions about people, actions, and objects. Presumably, more sophisticated partners, like parents, promote children′s development in this domain. Yet the empirical literature to date shows little support for the notion that child solitary symbolic play grows through adult-child symbolic play interactions. This paper first reviews empirical studies that address the role and effects of a more sophisticated partner on children′s early symbolic play. Next, the paper presents three theoretical perspectives that support a view that symbolic play and advance children′s representational competencies more broadly; they include attachment, scaffolding, and ethological theory. Finally, the paper revisits the literature on interactive influences on children′s play reconsidering the nature and role of specific independent and dependent variables in studies of the growth of children′s symbolic play.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)382-400
Number of pages19
JournalDevelopmental Review
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1995

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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