Fathers’ and Mothers’ Emotion Talk With Their Girls and Boys From Toddlerhood to Preschool Age

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Abstract

Goals of the current study were to examine fathers’ and mothers’ emotion talk from toddlerhood to preschool age, and to test whether parents socialize emotions differently in girls and boys. In a sample of 317 families, we observed both parents’ emotion talk and their use of gender labels, while discussing a picture book with drawings of children displaying 4 basic emotions (anger, fear, sadness, and happiness), with their first- and second-born children when the children were 4 and 2 years of age, respectively, and again 12 months later. Findings revealed that parents generally elaborated more on emotions with the second-born children when the children were 3 years of age than when they were 2 years old. With their firstborn children parents elaborated less on emotions when the children were 5 years old than when they were 4 years of age. Further, mothers elaborated more on emotions than fathers. Parents’ use of gender labels for the children in the pictures showed that parents associated anger more with boys, whereas they associated sadness and happiness more with girls. These findings suggest that parents adjust their emotion socialization strategies to their child’s level of emotion understanding, and that both parents convey stereotypical gender messages during parent–child discussion of emotions.

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