We talk a lot about ‘playing’ where our children are concerned. And that’s a good thing!

We have play dates, playgrounds, play areas, play times, soft play, and those of us above a certain age used to watch ‘Playschool’ on television.

With play being so absolutely central to childhood, it’s amazing how little most of us think about what ‘play’ actually means, and how it benefits not just the children themselves, but the family as a whole.

What might look to us like nothing more than getting covered in paint, building a den under the kitchen table using sheets and clothes pegs, or creating an entire imaginary universe using nothing but paper, pencils and pieces of fabric cut out of Daddy’s most expensive ties, is actually doing a whole host of amazing things, like contributing to our children’s social, emotional, motor and cognitive development.

It’s also a great opportunity to learn some vital life lessons. Like…DO NOT CHOP UP CLOTHES, OK?

But play comes with its own sticky, messy, scuff-marked hazards; children are not exactly for known for being tidy or careful when it comes to play time. And, unfortunately for we parents, this can result in a house that looks a little more like a jumble sale than a home.

It’s no surprise then, perhaps, that new research by Dulux found that 54% of parents asked said there were areas in their home where play was completely prohibited, with a third having designated child- free zones in their home.

The biggest reason for this play blackout, given by a quarter of parents, was worry about mess being made. And nearly a tenth were worried that over-excitement during a particularly energetic game of hide-and–seek might scuff the walls.

Just 13% of parents said they were happy for messy play to take place at home at all, with 41% preferring their children to ‘play quietly’.

Contrast this with what the children themselves said, about how and where they like to play; A third of kids said they wish they had more space to play at home, and 14% wished they could play in every room in the house. Favourite games included hide and seek, imaginary games, and making potions. And their least favourite type of play? Playing at the table. Presumably, quietly.

Oh dear…

Now, if we went along with our children’s every wish and desire, we’d probably find ourselves crawling into our own hide-away spaces by the end of the week!

BUT, there is a lot to be said for allowing children more space to play in, and not restricting their playtime to coordinate with our home décor wishes.

Children who are allowed to play freely at home and don’t feel constantly worried about getting into trouble for making a mess, often have increased self confidence, improved social and communication skills and creativity.

Different spaces can also really encourage different types of play, and unlock imagination that was getting stifled if it’s confined to only one or two ‘allowed’ spaces.

And when parents themselves join in and relax into the play? It can have a profoundly positive impact on the whole family dynamic. Amazingly enough, a third of children said they actually prefer playing with their parents than their friends. (I would very much like to know how many of these children were sitting next to their parents at the time, and were gunning for a piece of cake after the survey!)

All joking aside, the fact is that many children love playing with their parents, and we forget that to our detriment. And theirs.

But that’s all just part of being parents!

Nobody said parenting was easy. They key is to embrace it all, accept that our homes will never be quite as tidy and clean as they might have been pre-kids, and use clever techniques and products like new Dulux Easycare to clean it all up easily and quickly, and keep the house feeling like our own – and theirs, too.

Liz Fraser is one of the UK's best-known writers and broadcasters on all aspects of modern family life. Her internationally best-selling books about the realities of being a parent re-moulded parenting forever, by finally allowing it to be very funny, and accepting that we all get most of it wrong – which is just as it should be. Liz has a degree in Experimental Psychology from Cambridge University, is a key panel member of the think-tank, The Centre for the Modern Family, and appears frequently on national television and radio as a parenting commentator. Liz has three teenaged children, whom she says use her as a taxi, private chef, laundry service and cashpoint!