In a study published yesterday in The British Journal of Developmental Psychology, authors Ana Aznar and Harriet Tenenbaum found that mothers are more likely to use emotional words and emotional content when speaking with their 4-year-old daughters than with their 4-year-old sons.
Mothers use more emotional language, which has an effect on girls’ worldview.
According to Tenenbaum, associate professor of psychology at the University of Surrey;
“We know…that children imitate same-gendered models [i.e. girls imitate moms and boys imitate dads] more than different-gendered models. So they are taught that emotions are more acceptable for women than for men.”
Mothers are generally believed to use more emotion-laden language than fathers, of which they often perpetuate gender stereotypes in their children unknowingly.
Tenenbaum also noted that learning emotional intelligence is incredibly important for children in terms of school success, getting along with teachers and having good peer relations. Since kids who understand emotions better tend to have higher performance in school even after controlling for intelligence.
In the research carried out by Tenenbaum and others and as obtained from TIME (Online Magazine),
Researchers videotaped 65 Spanish mothers and fathers along with their 4-year-old and 6-year-old children during a storytelling task and then during a conversation about a past experience. The subjects lived in middle-to-upper-class neighborhoods. On the first visit, the mother or the father and the child were taped in conversation. Within a week, the other parent and the child came in and talked about a similar subject. The videotaped conversations were transcribed and emotion words like “happy,” “sad,” “angry,” “love,” “concern,” and “fear,” were singled out.
Mothers used a higher proportion of emotional words than fathers did with both 4 and 6-year olds, which is consistent with studies performed in the U.S. But they were particularly expressive with their 4-year old daughters. “American mothers and fathers do similar things in enforcing emotions,” says Tenenbaum. The theory is that mothers may be more comfortable talking about their emotions than fathers. Children might therefore think it is more appropriate for girls to talk about feelings. In fact, daughters were more likely than sons to speak about their emotions with their fathers when talking about past experiences. And during these reminiscing conversations, fathers used more emotion-laden words with their 4-year-old daughters than with their 4-year-old sons.
Tenenbaum was surprised that mothers and fathers continue to perpetuate the stereotypes. “Most parents say they want boys to be more expressive, but don’t know [they] are speaking differently to them,” she says.
Tenenbaum now concludes by saying; Parents should try to teach boys about emotion as much as possible, says , and use emotion-laden language with both sons and daughters. “We are beyond the point in society where boys are taught never to express emotions,” she says. “We need to model for them how to appropriately express emotions. These are learned stereotypes and we are reinforcing them as a society.”