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Spring 2017

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This paper highlights contrasting perspectives in the study of mother-child play. One contrast emerges as we look at the phenomenon using the lens offered by anthropology as opposed to the more commonly used lens of psychology. A second contrast is apparent from on-the-ground descriptions of childhood in the ethnographic record compared to observations of children in the upper strata of modern society. Psychologists and those public agents who adopt their perspective see mother-child play—from infancy—as both necessary for normal development and an unlimited good. Its self-evident value should be impressed upon those who are as yet, unenlightened. Anthropologists not only frequently note the absence of mother-child play, but, equally important, they provide culturally-nuanced explanations for why this is so. Psychologists see mother-child play as natural, anthropologists as cultural. The paper concludes with a call to cease the wholesale exportation of a culture-specific child-rearing strategy that may be quite incongruent with native belief and practice.