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Links between mums’ mental health and children’s pretend play

Why did we do this research?

Pretend play can be a helpful way for children to develop important social and emotional skills. We wanted to find out whether parents’ experiences of anxiety and low mood were linked to the amount they took part in pretend play with their 2-year-olds.

How did we do it?

Video clips of 60 mums playing with their toddlers were analysed in 5-second chunks.

Researchers were looking out for moments of pretend play (like pouring the toy teapot or pretending to eat the cake) from both mums and their children.

We also asked parents how anxious and low they’d been feeling in the last two weeks.

What did we find?

We found that in families where mums reported little anxiety, both children and mums were more likely to pretend play together.

This suggests that helping parents who experience low mood or anxiety could also help improve their ability to engage in important and potentially ‘protective’ forms of play with their children.


To find out more about this study, browse our resources below.

Research paper

Read our open-access research paper, published in BMC Psychology.