It’s said that little girls mature emotionally faster than boys. Buy why? Is it in their genes? Or is it how we talk to them?
Do mothers and fathers use different, more emotional language with their children? Does it change based on the child’s age and gender? Does mom use different language than dad? Spoiler alert: yes.
The British Journal of Developmental Psychology published a study this month that doles out the deets.
In a study titled “Gender and age differences in parent–child emotion talk”, researchers Ana Aznar and Harriet R. Tenenbaum found that “emotion word” usage differs depending on if it’s coming from mom or dad, and the age and gender of the children. Emotion word usage from parents influences children’s abilities to express their own emotions, as well as potentially maintain or break stereotypes about girls being “more emotional” than boys.
Researchers recruited 65 children from Madrid, Spain, ages 4 and 6, as well as their parents. Families were from middle- to upper-class neighborhoods and all parents had college degrees.
On the first day of the study, either the mother or father was tasked with sitting down with their child and discussing storytelling task and a reminiscence task. Within the week, the other parent did the same tasks.
The storytelling task had to do with having the parent and child create a pre-written emotional story with a toy house and figures. The reminiscence task had the parent and child discuss four instances – a day at the zoo, a doctor’s visit, the first day at school, and a time that the child fell.
Researchers used a pre-set list of emotional words (such as happy, sad, like, dislike, love, embarrassed and excited) to gauge emotional word usage between the parents and children.
Here were the cumulative results (full results can be seen in the link below):
Use of emotional words during play-based storytelling task versus during reminiscence task (storytelling | reminiscence):
- Moms: 399 | 527
- Dads: 316 | 483
- Children with mothers: 65 | 107
- Children with fathers: 44 | 124
Researchers found that mothers used a higher proportion of emotion words than fathers overall, and both parents used a higher proportion of emotion words while reminiscing than storytelling. But when researchers broke the numbers down, they found that the age and gender of the children were also a factor. While reminiscing with 4-year-olds, fathers of daughters used a higher proportion of emotion words than fathers of sons. While storytelling with 4-year-olds, mothers of daughters used a higher proportion of emotion words than mothers of sons.
So, basically, both fathers and mothers used more emotional words while talking to their daughters than their sons. It’s easy to see why the mothers used more emotion words than the fathers overall; girls are raised hearing and using more emotional words by parents who were raised the same way. In short, we emotionally socialize our daughters to be more emotionally mature than our sons.