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Keywords:

  • mother–child play;
  • anthropology;
  • psychology;
  • children

In this article, I highlight contrasting perspectives in the study of mother–child play. One contrast emerges as we use the lens offered by anthropology as opposed to the more commonly used lens of psychology. A second contrast is apparent from descriptions of childhood in the ethnographic record compared to observations of children in the upper strata of modern society. Psychologists and advocates who adopt their perspective view mother–child play—from infancy—as both necessary for normal development and an unlimited good. Its self-evident value should be impressed on those who are unenlightened. Anthropologists frequently note the absence of mother–child play and, equally important, provide culturally nuanced explanations for why this is so. Psychologists see mother–child play as natural; anthropologists see it as cultural. I conclude by questioning the wholesale exportation of a culture-specific child-rearing strategy that may be quite incongruent with native belief and practice.