Original Article

Sex Roles

, Volume 68, Issue 9, pp 591-604

First online:

Gender Differences in Elaborative Parent–Child Emotion and Play Narratives

  • Widaad ZamanAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, University of Central Florida Email author 
  • , Robyn FivushAffiliated withEmory University

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Reminiscing about the past is an everyday activity that has implications for children’s developing memory and socioemotional skills. However, little research has systematically examined how mothers and fathers may differentially elaborate and engage their daughters and sons in reminiscing. In this study, we asked 42 broadly middle-class, highly educated U.S., mostly Caucasian mothers and fathers from the same families, living in the southeastern U.S., to reminisce about a happy, sad, peer conflict, parental conflict, playground and special outing experience with their 4-year-old child. Narratives were coded for parental styles of cognitive elaboration and joint engagement. Results indicated that mothers are both more elaborative and engaged with children than fathers are, especially about negative emotional and positive play experiences. Thus, mothers appear to be helping children recount and understand their personal past more than fathers, and specifically, in working through difficult emotions that may facilitate emotion regulation skills.


Parent–child interaction Autobiographical memory Emotion talk Play