Parent Gender and Child Gender as Factors in the Socialization of Emotion Displays and Emotion Regulation in Preschool Children

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In recent years, there has been a surge in the examination of the socialization of children's emotions (see Eisenberg, Cumberland, & Spinrad, 1998 for relevant review). Few researchers have examined the socialization of both (1) discrete positive emotions (e.g., happiness) and (2) discrete negative emotions (e.g., anxiety, anger). Furthermore, few studies have examined both mothers' and fathers' role in children's emotional development. The present study had three major aims (1) examine parents' emotional reactions and reactive socialization strategies to children's discrete positive and negative emotion-related behaviors; (2) examine the role of parent gender and child gender in the emotion socialization process; and (3) examine the role of context (public setting versus private setting) in the emotion socialization process. Eighty-six parents of preschool-aged children (26 mothers of daughters, 20 mothers of sons, 17 fathers of sons, and 23 fathers of daughters) participated in this study. Data were analyzed with respect to: (1) parents self-reported emotional reactions to their sons' or daughters' displays of happiness, anxiety, anger, or disappointment, in both the public and private contexts; and (2) the emotion socialization strategies parents utilized in response to their sons' or daughters' displays of happiness, anxiety, anger, or disappointment in public and private contexts. Results indicated (1) mothers and fathers report stronger emotional reactions in response to their same-sex child's display of emotions; (2) the cause for children's emotion may play a powerful role in the manner which parents respond to their children's emotions; and (3) parents respond differently to children's display of discrete positive and negative emotions.