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Gender Differences in Elaborative Parent–Child Emotion and Play Narratives

Abstract

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.

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Acknowledgments

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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Correspondence to Widaad Zaman.

Appendix A

Appendix A

Low Elaborative (Medium Engaged) Parent

Parent: What makes you sad? Does anything make you sad?

Child: No.

Parent: You know what sad means?

Child: No.

Parent: It means when, let’s say you wanna go outside and we don’t wanna go outside to watch you so you have to stay in the house. Do you be feeling sad then?

Child: Uh huh.

Parent: You think so?

Child: Uh huh.

Parent: Is that why you cry?

Child: Uh huh.

Parent: ‘Cause you wanna get your way?

Child: Uh huh.

Parent: Yeah? So whenever you’re sad do normally you cry?

Child: Uh huh.

Parent: Do you know why you’re cryin’?

Child: Because you said no one can watch me outside and I said, “You can watch me.” And you said, “I don’t wanna go outside.”

Parent: And that made you sad?

Child: Uh huh.

High Elaborative (Highly Engaged) Parent

Parent: This one says being sad. We have to talk about a time when you were sad.

Child: We didn’t go to Fernbank.

Parent: That’s right, yesterday when we didn’t go to Fernbank. That made you sad? Yeah. I was kinda sad too ‘cause I really thought it’d be fun to go. But it didn’t work out did it? Do you remember why?

Child: No.

Parent: No? I think there two things. Who was keeping you?

Child: Elan.

Parent: Elan kinda overslept on his nap, right?

Child: Yeah.

Parent: And by the time he got up it was late, so we didn’t have time to really get lunch before

Child: And I had an accident.

Parent: You had an accident. You’re right. And we didn’t wanna go to Fernbank if you were having an accident. And do you know what else there was?

Child: What?

Parent: What’d [Parent] really want to do yesterday?

Child: I don’t know

Parent: What did [Parent] do all afternoon?

Child: [Parent] wanted to watch football.

Parent: [Parent] really wanted to watch the football game didn’t [Parent]?

Low Engaged (High Elaborative) Parent

Parent: Alright, the next one, help me think of a time when you were sad. I’m having trouble thinking about that. When is a time that you were sad? Sometimes you get sad when you think about heaven, right?

Child: No –

Parent: Just the other day you were sad when you talked about heaven because you said you didn’t want to go to heaven. That made you sad, but we talked through it and we said it’s gonna be a happy place. Why is it gonna be happy?

Child: Because I don’t want to die.

Parent: I know you don’t want to die but we know that when you do, we’re gonna see a lot of people. You’re gonna see your grandpa’s that you never met, you’re gonna see one of your grandma’s that you’ve never met.

Child: No, there’s only one grandma in heaven.

Parent: Right, I said one of your grandma’s. So it will be a happy place, right? But you do kind of get sad when we talk about that.

Highly Engaged (Low Elaborative) Parent

Parent: Did you see a puppy the last time we went to the park?

Child: Hmm?

Parent: The puppy?

Child: Yeah, I wanted to pet it.

Parent: You did pet it.

Child: Yep, and I was so dirty. I was!

Parent: Did you have fun?

Child: I was!

Parent: Do you remember you got on the swing? You and (name) were on the swing and I was pushing you?

Child: Really high.

Parent: Mmhmm.

Child: Like, weeee! Wooo! Weee! Wooo! Weee!

Parent: Do you like going high in the big girl swing?

Child: Yeah, I like going really, really high. Like this, weee! Wooo! Woooo! Weee!

Parent: What about the rock climbing wall? Do you remember we raced up the wall?

Child: Yeah.

Parent: Who won?

Child: Yeah, you tried to beat me.

Parent: Yeah, because we were racing.

Child: And I was losing. I can’t, and I was taking 30 points. I was taking 30 points to get up that wall.

Parent: But you got up top. You went all the way up and then you came down. Do you remember?

Child: Yeah, I was telling you I was gonna fall down.

Parent: But you didn’t.

Child: Yeah.

Parent: You did a good job.

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Zaman, W., Fivush, R. Gender Differences in Elaborative Parent–Child Emotion and Play Narratives. Sex Roles 68, 591–604 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-013-0270-7

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Keywords

  • Parent–child interaction
  • Autobiographical memory
  • Emotion talk
  • Play