Do we play differently?

Talk about play and the stereotypical Asian parent comes to mind—studies over playtime. But is this just a myth?

By Neha Navsaria, PhD





When thinking about the culture of play for South Asians, the stereotypical Asian parent comes to mind—one who stresses studies over playtime. But is this a myth or reality? Let’s look at what the research tells us.

In last month’s article we highlighted the benefits of play and creativity for children. But our discussion of play would be incomplete if we do not talk about the cultural aspects of play.

Maya Goldstein studied interactions between South Asian immigrant parents and their young children in Canada¹. An interesting theme was uncovered when Goldstein spoke to these parents. They felt there was greater freedom for children in India to play outside on their own and missed the consistent and daily involvement of friends, neighbors and family members in their children’s lives.

Parents reported that in India, they did not play much with their children because there were always other play partners close by such as neighbors, cousins, siblings, friends and grandparents. It seems South Asian parents do not dismiss playtime for their children, but rather face challenges in having one-on-one time with their child due to a lack of traditional support in a different country. These parents are simply not used to taking on this role. Results from this study suggest play can look very different depending on one’s environment.

In 2006, 135 South Asian parents participated in a parenting assessment conducted in Canada². When asked what parenting topics they were most interested in learning about, 90% of parents wanted to know about playing with their child. They preferred to learn more about this than about coping with misbehaviors, managing sibling rivalry and balancing work and family. This tells us South Asian parents do value the importance of play and want to learn more.

Despite these positive findings, there are concerns about whether South Asian children are getting enough active playtime. In November 2011, the BBC News reported British Asian Indian children (aged 7-9) were involved in active play as much as their peers at school and during the weekends, but not as much during the evenings³. This lack of activity raises concerns for South Asian children’s health and risk for obesity. The authors suggest these results are possibly related to parental emphasis on academics and religious practices in the evenings, as well as lack of family role models for children.

Let’s get back to our original question—is the South Asian attitude towards play for children a myth or reality? The answer seems to be somewhere in the middle. South Asian parents are interested in playtime for their children and have identified cultural barriers to play, but continue to face difficulties in overcoming these hurdles.

South Asian families should continue to have open and honest discussions in their community so they can begin to generate ideas for parenting that balance tradition with healthy child development. It is important to remember when we look at families across cultures and environments that there is really no right way to play—it is simply about remembering to take the time to play with your child in way that is enjoyable and not burdensome for the family.


¹Goldstein, M. (2010). Parent-child Play Interactions in Immigrant South Asian Families. Unpublished Masters thesis. University of British Columbia.

²Burneman, L. (2007). Parenting Needs Assessment. York Region Health Services.

³Aujla, G. (2007). South Asian children ‘less active’ than peers. BBC News Health

Image by



A brother like that

Shuaib thought he had been given the best Eid present ever. But the real gift was still waiting to be discovered.

Read More