Mothers’ and Fathers’ Differential Discussion of Emotion with their School-Age Children
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Parental socialization of emotions has been a topic of interest in developmental research for decades because of the importance of understanding how children learn about their emotions. The influence of the sex of both parent and child, however, are often not considered, and research on parent emotion socialization has often focused on infants and young children. Not considering these constructs during middle childhood ignores the importance of this developmental period, during which children have a more established gender identity and thus might recognize a shared identity with a parent. Emotion socialization from both parents during this developmental period has the potential to differentially inform children’s expectations of gender norms related to emotions. Men and women interpret and express their emotions differently and may differentially socialize their children regarding emotions along these patterns. The current study examined parental emotion coaching and elaboration observed during discussions of positive and negative emotions between 44 children with their mothers and fathers, with specific focus on the sex of the parents and children. I expected that mothers would engage in more emotion coaching and use a more elaborative style than fathers. Additionally, I expected that parents of girls would be more encouraging of positive emotions than parents of boys and that parents of boys would be more discouraging of negative emotions than parents of girls. Children between the ages of 6 and 9 visited the Children’s Emotions Lab with their mothers and fathers on separate occasions and participated in an emotion talk task with each parent. Each pair discussed a time when the child was happy and a time when the child was upset; each discussion lasted two and a half minutes each. I found a significant emotion valence by child sex interaction: parents were more elaborative and encouraging when discussing positive emotions with daughters than with sons and that parents were more elaborative and encouraging when discussing negative events with sons than with daughters. There was also specific parent gender by child sex interaction: mothers were less elaborative and encouraging with daughters than sons and that fathers were less elaborative and encouraging with sons than daughters. Findings from this study suggest that parents’ experiences with their own emotions influence their emotion socialization practices with their children. Recommended practices for future studies and interventions are suggested.
General Audience Abstract
Emotion socialization refers to the ways we come to understand the rules, expectations, and understanding of emotions. Research often looks at the ways that parents socialize, or teach, emotions to their children by examining parent attitudes about children’s emotions, parents’ reactions to children’s emotions, and parent-child discussions of emotions. However, often this research is limited in scope, examining only mothers’ parenting, only examining socialization of negative emotions, or using only parent-report data. Research has previously found that boys and girls are socialized differently when it comes to emotions, and I want to build on established research to examine these differences further. For this study, I have observed parent-child conversations about positive and negative emotions, including both mothers and fathers. Forty-four children participated with both their mothers and fathers. I looked at parental elaboration, which is how parents ask for and provide information within a conversation, and parental encouragement of emotions, which relates to how parents validate children’s emotions and help children to understand cause and consequences of their emotions. I hypothesized that mothers would be more elaborative, that is ask for and give more information in conversations, and encouraging, that is helping children to accept, understand and respond to their emotions, than fathers. I also hypothesized that parents of daughters would be more elaborative and encouraging when talking about positive emotions and that parents of sons would be less encouraging of negative emotions. Only parts of my hypotheses were supported by the data from my study. Mothers and fathers did have different strategies of emotion socialization, and fathers of daughters were more encouraging of positive emotions. However, parents of sons were more encouraging of negative emotions. Further, parents were less elaborative and encouraging of their same-sex children’s emotions. These findings suggest that parents’ own experiences, and possibly even the ways their own parents socialized them, is related to the ways they socialize their children.
- Masters Theses