Mothers’ Gender-Role Attitudes and Their Responses to Young Children’s Hypothetical Display of Shy and Aggressive Behaviors

Abstract

The purpose of this study was to investigate the role of child gender and maternal gender-role attitudes in mothers’ reactions to hypothetical vignettes depicting their preschool-aged child displaying aggressive and shy behaviors. Participants were 78 mothers of preschool-aged children (43 girls, 35 boys; M age = 47.44 months, SD = 11.00) living in a mid-sized city in Ontario, Canada. Mothers provided reports of their gender-role attitudes and rated their expectancies and emotional/behavioral reactions following hypothetical vignettes depicting their child displaying physically aggressive and shy-withdrawn behaviors. It was hypothesized that mothers would respond with more negative (and less positive) emotions and expectancies in response to children’s gender-incongruent problem behaviors (i.e., shyness among boys, aggression among girls). It was further hypothesized that these gender effects would be more pronounced among mothers espousing more traditional (i.e., less egalitarian) gender-role attitudes. Results of multiple regression analyses indicated that mothers anticipated more negative consequences to aggression among boys than among girls. Several significant interaction effects also emerged between child gender and maternal gender-role attitudes, particularly with regards to children’s shyness. Among mothers of boys, a more egalitarian gender-role attitude was associated with greater anticipated benefits of shyness, and both more positive and more negative emotional responses to shyness. For mothers of girls, however, the opposite pattern emerged. Results provide some support for the notion that mothers may enforce gender-typical social behaviors in their children, particularly if they themselves hold more traditional gender-role attitudes.

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Correspondence to Mila K. Kingsbury.

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This research was supported by an Ontario Graduate Scholarship to author Kingsbury and a Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada grant to author Coplan.

Appendix A—Text of the Child Behavior Vignettes (Boy Version)

Appendix A—Text of the Child Behavior Vignettes (Boy Version)

Aggression:

One afternoon you are at the park, watching your son play in the sandbox with a few other children. One of the other children has a toy your son wants. Your son grabs the toy and pushes the other child down. You have seen him do this a few times before.

Shyness:

One afternoon you are watching your son on the playground. You see him standing against the fence, watching some other children playing a game. He appears somewhat anxious. He inches closer to the other children, but does not try to join in. You have seen him behave like this in the past.

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Kingsbury, M.K., Coplan, R.J. Mothers’ Gender-Role Attitudes and Their Responses to Young Children’s Hypothetical Display of Shy and Aggressive Behaviors. Sex Roles 66, 506–517 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-012-0120-z

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Keywords

  • Gender roles
  • Socialization
  • Parenting
  • Social development