Gender Differences in Elaborative Parent–Child Emotion and Play Narratives
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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.
KeywordsParent–child interaction Autobiographical memory Emotion talk Play
This research was funded by a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation supporting the Emory Center for Myth and Ritual in American Life. The paper was written while the first author was a pre-doctoral fellow of the National Institute of Health, fellowship number 5 F31 HD 64545- 2. We are extremely grateful to Natalie Ann Merrill for endless hours of data collection, organization and coding. Additionally, we thank John Shallcross for help with coding.
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