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"Similarities and Differences in Communication Styles Between Preschoolers and Their Parents"



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Acknowledgements
Abstract
Introduction
Methods
Results
 Discussion
Tables
References
Appendices


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Key Words:  COMMUNICATION; GENDER; LANGUAGE; PRESCHOOL;


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
    I would like to mention the two most instrumental people who assisted me with this project, my mother and Professor Ossoff.  My mother, as a teacher herself, has always encouraged and inspired me to learn.  Her support and assistance in finding volunteers to participate in this study was amazing.  She also gave wonderful advice and feedback when it came to preschoolers.  Many thanks to Professor Ossoff for the invaluable time she spent not only with me, but also with all of her students.  Her support and guidance calmed many nerves – I am very grateful!
    Thank you to all my friends for their relentless support.  Especially to... Marcie, for your enthusiasm and proofreading; Spanky, you’re one in a million – Rockout!; Christina, because you’re fancy!;  EP, you are an amazing woman!;  Chad and Nic, because someday we will have a sitcom – we’re finally done!!!  last, but not least, to Pat – if only Torts and Civil Procedure were over – you’ve been phenomenal!
    Thank you to the entire Psychology Department - you are wonderful!  Finally, CONGRATULATIONS to my classmates – we’ve finally made it!

ABSTRACT
    This study examines parent-child communications and the influences of gender on the style in which they communicate with one another.  A review of the literature suggests that parents tend to use different styles to communicate with their daughters and sons, respectively; and that parents may be the most influential source of socialization on their children.  Therefore, it was hypothesized that children may internalize the stereotypes offered to them by their parents through their communication patterns.  Also, it is suggested that due to a dual working household, gender stereotypes would be less pronounced than in the past because of an assumed equality of the of child-care responsibilities.
    Four sets of parent-child dyads were assessed: mother/daughter (n=6), mother/son (n=4), father/daughter (n=5), and father/son (n=5) as the independent variable.  The children ranged from 3 to 6 years of age and attended a full day preschool program.  The participants were from a middle class socioeconomic background in a suburb in the northeast, consisting of both parents working outside of the home.  Dependent variables included six aspects of language style: (a) amount of talking, (b) supportive speech, (c) negative speech, (d) directive speech, (e) giving information, and (f) asking questions (Leaper, Anderson, & Sanders, 1998).  The participants were audiotaped within their home performing a gender-neutral task.  The audiotape was then evaluated for the occurrence of the six dependent variables.
    Analyses of variance and correlations were used to analyze the data revealing gender differences in patterns of communication between parent/son and parent/daughter dyads.  In additions, differential patterns of communication between mother/son and mother/daughter, father/son, and father/daughter dyads were found.  Specifically, mothers tended to talk more, use more supportive speech, and ask more questions with their children in comparison to fathers.  Also, the data indicated that mothers and fathers tend to use more directive language and give more information with their daughters than their sons.
    The gender differences found in this study are consistent with the existing literature, and suggest that parents are consistent with their stereotypic gender role.  The language styles used by parents reflect the theory that men are thought to be task oriented and independent while women are thought to be relationship oriented and affiliative.  The result failed to confirm that a dual working household would produce less gender-stereotyped communication.  Both mothers and fathers chose language that reflected these beliefs depending on the gender of their child.  Knowledge of this difference in the way in which parents communicate with their children, may make parents more aware of gender differences.  Perhaps, this may lead to the reduction of gender-role barriers for both men and women.

INTRODUCTION
Similarities and Differences in Communication Styles Between Preschoolers and Their Parents
   Gender differences in communication styles exist and impact the way in which people understand and relate with one another.  Tannen (1996) argues that men and women use different styles to communicate and that socialization is a main influence on shaping this pattern of behavior.  Leaper, Anderson, and Sanders (1998) also report that, in general, men and women differ in their speech styles: women use language to form and maintain connections with others, while men use language to assert their independence and achieve their goals.
    Similarly, gender differences in children’s use and development of language have been found.  Tannen (1996) states that beginning in infancy, children are treated differently depending on their gender and that this process of socialization is inclusive of language acquisition.  Therefore, gender differences in children’s development may be a result of gender-typed socialization.  On the other hand, Lewis (1969) found that in young infancy, females vocalize more than males under age one year, suggesting that females are biologically predisposed toward strong verbal skills.  However, other research has found that mothers of girls talked significantly more than did mothers of boys (Haverson & Waldrop, 1970).  A higher rate of vocalization in girls may be a result of positive reinforcement from mothers.  Maccoby and Jacklin (1974) also concluded that girls are more skilled than boys at verbal tasks.  Finally, research also suggests that girls’ brains mature faster, causing lateralization to occur earlier in females than males. It has been proposed that girls score higher in verbal tasks than boys as a result of early lateralization (Bukatko & Daehler, 1998).
    From a social learning perspective, research indicates that parents may be the most influential source in the socialization of their children.  Bandura (1977) reports that parents are important models for their children’s language development. Bandura’s Social Learning Theory (1977) suggests that children identify the rules governing their parents’ utterances and generate their own speech incorporating the same structures.  It follows that specific structures of parents’ speech, in particular their gender role, will be imitated and incorporated into the child’s speech.  Therefore, if differences exist between the way in which mothers and fathers speak with their children, differential styles will be developed and maintained within the child’s speech.
    Gleason and Melzi (1997) suggest that a child’s understanding and use of language results primarily from the interactions with his or her parents.  Children use the elements of speech given to them as they develop to provide a framework for language, and also to construct their world.  A relationship has also been shown to exist between parent-child communication and the formation of gender stereotypes (Leaper et al, 1998).  For example, parents encourage gender-typed play activities in their children.  Girls and boys are exposed to different situations that involve different styles of verbal interaction, which are then reinforced by their parents.  In contrast, Chomsky (1968) suggests that language has a maturational base.  That is, children use universal grammar and principles of language that have evolved as a part of human nature.
    A goal of this study is to examine parent-child communications and the influence of gender in the style in which they communicate with one another.  Past research focuses on the differences in language development (Leaper at al, 1998).  Therefore, the present research focuses not only on the differences in gender-typed communication that have been found, but the similarities as well.
    A second goal of this study is to explore the relationship of the existing male and female roles in terms of work and home responsibility as it relates to communication styles.  Because both parents of the children in the study maintain separate careers outside of the home, it is expected that parents in a dual career household share equal responsibility as caregivers of their children.  According to Gleason & Melzi (1997), this may suggest that less stereotyped communication, that is, more similarities, should exist between parents and their children.  Past studies, in general, tended to use families with mothers as the primary care giver and the father as the “breadwinner” (Bellinger & Gleason, 1982; Ely, Gleason, Narasimhan, & McCabe, 1995; Leaper & Gleason, 1996; Reese & Fivush, 1993; Walker & Armstrong, 1995).  Therefore, the mother’s style tended to have a greater influence on their children.  Mothers, typically, were the primary caretaker and consequently, engaged in a greater amount of conversation with their children.  But, today, due to dual career households, parents may spend equal amounts of time with their children.
    However, taking Chomsky’s theory into consideration and with the knowledge that parents typically encourage gender-typed play activities in their children (Bellinger et al, 1982; Leaper et al, 1996; Leaper et al, 1998), it is hypothesized that gendered communication styles will remain, but be much less pronounced today due to the different household roles and caregiver responsibility.
Gender stereotypes, defined as standardized beliefs about a specific sex, may inadvertently be acquired as communication skills develop (Fagot, Leinbach, & O’Boyle, 1992).  Research indicates that children form gender stereotypes regarding sex-typed activities at approximately three years of age (Leaper et al, 1996), which is consistent with the age range in the present study.  The formation of stereotypes is a normal outcome of growing up in a sex-typed world.  For this reason, parents may intentionally or unintentionally use sex-typed communication styles when talking with their children (Fagot & Hagan, 1991).  Therefore, this may result in children internalizing the stereotypes offered to them by their parents.
    A large body of empirical research addresses the topic of gender differences in communication styles between parents and their preschool-age children (Bradbard, Endsley, & Mize, 1992; Ely et al, 1995; Halverson et al, 1970; Leaper et al, 1998; Leaper et al, 1996; Reese et al, 1993).  Mothers tend to be more talkative, initiate more conversations, use more supportive language, and use more negative speech with their children than do fathers (Bradbard et al, 1992; Leaper et al, 1998; Walker et al, 1995).  In contrast, fathers tend to use more directive language strategies, more informing statements, more questions, experience more communication breakdowns, and tend to dominate in conversations with their children than do mothers (Fash & Madison, 1981; Leaper et al, 1998; Walker at al, 1995).
    Further, individual differences exist between the mothers/son dyad and the mother/daughter dyad as shown by related research.  Mothers tend to encourage and support communication more with daughters than with sons (Ely et al, 1995).  Mothers also have a tendency to be more talkative and use more directives with daughters than with sons (Leaper et al, 1998).  Furthermore, individual differences also exist between the father/son dyad as compared to the father/daughter dyad.  Fathers gave boys more positive reactions for male stereotyped toys than they did to girls (Fagot et al, 1991).
    Research indicates that, in general, mothers and fathers provide gender-typed role models for their children in their communication styles.  Daughters receive more emphasis on verbal interaction than do sons (Leaper et al, 1998) and parents tend to elaborate more in conversations with their daughters (Reese et al, 1993).  Parents’ communication styles with their daughters may foster girls’ continued participation in sociodramatic types of play because socioemotional and expressive skills are emphasized.  Likewise, boys’ continued participation in goal-oriented types of play may be due to the emphasis on instrumental skills through parents’ communication styles  (Leaper et al, 1998).  For example, girls may be encouraged to play “house” in order to make use of their socioemotional and expressive skills, while boys may be encouraged to build with Lego’s to produce an end product.
    The nature of the task, use of a toy, or a play activity, may influence gender-typed communication between parents and their children (Bellinger et al, 1982; Leaper et al, 1996).  A gender-stereotyped toy or play activity may elicit a specific verbal prompt from a parent.  For example, a mother and father’s reaction to a toy car (a masculine-stereotyped toy) as compared to a play grocery store (a feminine-stereotyped toy) may differ due to the stereotypic nature of the task.  A toy car may elicit fathers to use more directive language and informing speech when interacting with their daughters.  Likewise, mothers may be more talkative and use more supportive speech with their sons when interacting with a feminine-stereotyped toy.  In contrast, fathers may tend to be less supportive of sons when engaged in feminine-stereotyped play.  Similarly, mothers may be less likely to support their daughters when engaged in a masculine stereotyped play activity.  Leaper and Gleason (1996) found that the play activity, not the parent or child’s gender, accounted for differences in communication styles.  Therefore, the way in which the parent and child communicated was based on the activity in which they were engaged.  A masculine-stereotyped play activity elicited parents to use more directive and informing speech while a feminine-stereotyped play activity prompted supportive and elaborate conversations for both boys and girls.  The present study attempts to account for this issue by using a gender-neutral activity.
    Likewise, the environments where the observations take place appear to be a significant mediator of gender effects.  Walker and Armstrong (1995) report that the situation in which interactions occur influences the parent’s style of communication with their child.  Larger effect sizes occurred, in general, when observations of a parent-child interaction were based in a more naturalistic and less structured environment.  Therefore, laboratory studies or highly structured play activities may significantly decrease gender-typed communication (Bellinger et al, 1982; Leaper et al, 1998).  Parents and children may act unnaturally in a laboratory setting because they may feel pressured to respond in ways that are socially desirable.  Therefore, the present study avoided these confounds by audio-recording parent and child conversations in a familiar, natural environment, the home.
    Leaper and Gleason (1996) studied contextual effects on parent-child interactions.  In a university laboratory, they observed interactions among children, aged 2 years, 1 month to 5 years, 2 months and their parents.  Two tasks were used, one masculine-stereotyped and the other feminine-stereotyped, as to orient the parent/child dyad toward two different play functions.  Their results indicated that there were significant differences in parents' and childrens' language behavior associated with the two play settings.  Specifically, the play activity influenced parent-child sex-typed communication.  The use of the university laboratory and the use of specific structured toys were limiting factors in the communication style between the parent and child.  Also, the range of ages distributed over 3 years may have been a confounding variable, as children are at developmentally different stages over this time span.
    In a similar study by Halverson and Waldrop (1970), data was collected from mothers and their 2 1/2-year-olds.  The interaction occurred at a preschool and consisted of six tasks for the parent and child to perform.  They were interested in the nature of verbal exchanges between mother and child. Halverson and Waldrop (1970) reported that a familiar researcher and setting for the children would allow for the communication between the parent and child to be natural.  The results suggested that mothers and daughters have a higher rate of verbal exchange than mothers and sons.  Unfortunately, this study was limited because the communication style between father and child was left unexplored.  The present study attempts to account for these issues by addressing both the mother and father’s interaction with their children.
    Similarly, Reese and Fivush (1993) collected data relating to parental communication styles when talking about the past.  Twenty-four parent-child dyads were recruited from county birth records.  The researchers gathered the data during home visits, providing a naturalistic setting.  The results indicated that mothers and fathers were stylistically similar, with the exception that parents of daughters were overwhelmingly more elaborate in the use of speech than parents of sons.  The parents in the study were allowed to choose the topic to be discussed, which may have been a confounding variable in the study.  Parents may have chosen a gender-typed event instead of a gender-neutral event.  For example, a mother may be more likely to choose a feminine-stereotyped activity which, consequently, may result in a greater display of feminine-stereotyped conversational style.  Likewise, a father may typically choose a masculine stereotyped activity, eliciting a masculine stereotyped conversation.  Also, the events were restricted to those that the parent participated in with the child.  This, too, may have been a confounding variable because the parents in the study may have had a history of gender-stereotyped activity with their children.  If a gender-neutral task has been assigned, a different outcome my have been the result.  Therefore, a gender-neutral task was assigned in the present study.
    This previous research suggests that these two variables, the nature of the task and the setting of the experiment, are important considerations in parent-child communication research.  Therefore, to alleviate any problems and to expand upon the previous research by focusing on parent-child gender similarities and differences in stereotyped communication, this study used a structured, gender neutral task and a naturalistic setting (the home environment).  The purpose of this study was to explore the influence of parent gender on their communication styles with their preschool-aged child.  It was expected that this type of task would elicit a rich verbal exchange between the parents and children, without the confounds of an artificial laboratory setting and a prescribed gender-specific task.

METHOD
Participants
    The sample of participants were 20 preschool age children, 10 boys and 10 girls, that engaged separately with each parent in reading a book and using a corresponding felt-board story.  The children ranged from 3 to 6 years of age and attended a full day preschool program located in a town west of Boston in the suburbs.  The participants were from a middle class socioeconomic background consisting of both parents working outside of the home.  The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) accredits the program.  All participants were volunteers in the study and the parents signed a consent form (see Appendix A).
Materials
    The parents and child were provided with a questionnaire (see Appendix B), directions for the activity (see Appendix C), two books and corresponding felt-board pieces, a felt-board(measuring 12 inches by 16inches), two audio-cassette tapes, and a Sharp cassette recorder (Model #RD-661AV).  Two age-appropriate books were selected: The Grouchy Ladybug by Eric Carle and Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown.
                            
Procedure
    The participants were divided into four dyad groups: mother-son, mother-daughter, father-son, and father-daughter.  First, the parents were asked to fill out the questionnaire (see Appendix B).  Then, each parent was asked to begin taping as they begin to read the book and use the felt-board and pieces, stressing the importance of recording without interruption.Each parent read one of the two books porvided to thier child.  The parents were asked to return the audiotape, audiotape recorder, and questionnaire to the center.  The book and felt-board stories were given to the parent and child as a token of appreciation.
Scoring
    The scoring procedure was based upon the meta-analysis of parent-child communication styles performed by Leaper, Anderson, and Sanders (1998).  All participant conversations were scored on six language variables including (a) the amount of talking, (b) supportive speech, (c) negative speech, (d) directive speech, (e) giving information and (f) asking questions or requesting information.
     Leaper and colleagues (1998) operationally define the variables as follows: Amount of talking is based the duration of the talking; Supportive speech includes any measures of positive language, such as praise, approval, etc.; Negative speech is defined as criticism, disapproval, or disagreement; Directive speech includes imperative language or direct suggestions; Giving information includes descriptive statements, opinions, or explanations; And, asking questions is based of “who, what, where, and why” questions, yes and no questions, and general requests for information.  One researcher listened to and coded the conversations for the amount of times each language variable occurred.

RESULTS
     Both a univariate analysis of variance and Pearson correlations were conducted to evaluate the relationship of the effect gender has on the style in which parents communicate with their preschool child. The independent variable, parent and child gender, included four levels of the type of relationship: mother/daughter, father/daughter, mother/son, and father/son.  The dependent variables were each of the language variables coded from the audiotaped interactions between the parent and child: amount of talking, supportive speech, negative speech, directive speech, giving information, and asking questions.
ANOVAs
     Separate one-way analyses of variance were conducted for each dependent variable across the four conditions of relationship type.  A p-value of less than or equal to .10, for a confidence level of 90%, was used to determine statistical significance due to the relatively small n.
    Amount of Talking. The ANOVA for the amount of talking variable revealed a main effect, F(3,17)=2.52, p<0.10.  The means for this condition are in the predicted direction, which is consistent with the review of the literature and the predictions stated in the hypothesis.  That is, mothers tended to be more talkative with their children than were fathers  (see table 1).
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    Supportive Speech. The  results from the ANOVA on the supportive speech dimension were not statistically significant, F(3,17)=2.08, p>.10, but were approaching significance in the predicted direction.  It was predicted that mothers would use more supportive language with their children as compared to fathers  (see table 2).
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    Negative Speech.  The ANOVA for negative speech did not reveal a significant main effect, F(3,17)=1.69, p>.10. The means for negative speech varied only slightly, suggesting a similarity across the four dyads (see table 3).  It was predicted that mothers would use more supportive speech with their children, particularly with daughters.  The data from this study does not confirm this prediction.
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    Directive Speech.  The ANOVA for directive speech did show a main effect for relationship type, F(3,20)=2.52, p<.10.  The means indicate that both mothers and fathers tend to use more directive language with daughters as compared to sons (see table 4).  This is contrary to the prediction that fathers would use more directive speech with their children, particularly with sons.
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    Giving Information.  Statistical significance was not revealed by the ANOVA for giving information, F(3,20)=1.42. p>.10. Yet, the means indicate that a differential pattern exists suggesting that mothers tend to give more information than fathers (see table 5).  This is contrary to the prediction that it is the sex of the child, not the parent, which drives this factor.
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    Asking Questions.  The ANOVA revealed no statistical significance for asking questions, F(3,17)=0.47, p>.10.  The means indicate that mothers tend to ask more questions than fathers which is contrary to the predicted direction that suggested that fathers would ask more questions than mothers (see table 6).
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Correlations
    Pearson Product Moment Correlations were calculated for each of the following groups:  Mother/Child & Father/Child.  Both mothers and fathers reveal a significant positive correlation between the amount of talking and supportive speech regradless of the sex of the child.
     Mothers revealed a positive correlation between the amount of talking and directive language, amount of talking and asking questions, supportive speech and giving information, and supportive speech and asking questions for both daughters and sons  (see tables 7 & 8).
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     This data suggests that there is a positive relationship between the amount of talking and the amount of supportive speech parents use with their child.  It also suggests that a positive relationship between the amount of talking a mother does with her children and the amount of supportive speech, directive language, and giving information done with these children.
     Parent/Son & Parent/Daughter.  For both parents there are significant positive correlations with daughters and sons respectively between the amount of talking and supportive speech, the amount of talking and giving information, supportive speech and giving information, and giving information and asking questions  (see tables 9 & 10).  These data suggests that similarities exist in the way in which parents communicate with both their children.
     Also, a significant positive correlation was found with parents and daughters between the amount of talking and asking questions, supportive speech and asking questions, negative speech and giving information, and directive speech and asking questions, (see table 9).  Correlations were not found specifically with parents and sons.  This pattern of parents giving and asking for more information from daughters and not with sons is consistent with the literature that suggests differential interactions with children based on gender (Ely et al, 1995; Fagot et al, 1991; Fagot et al, 1992; Gleason et al, 1997; Leaper et al, 1998; Leaper et al, 1996; Walker et al, 1995).
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DISCUSSION
    The results indicate that there are important and significant differences, as well as consistencies, for gender and the style in which parents communicate with their children.  This research also represents some of the important complexities encountered in verbal communication.  It is clear that mothers and fathers use different communication styles as a function of their own gender as well as that of their child’s gender.
     The hypothesis of this study postulated that, taking into account the Social Learning Theory (Bandura, 1977), children would internalize the gender roles displayed to them by their parents through gender-typed communication, and take their gender-specific role on as their own.  In general, both gender differences and similarities were predicted.  It was hypothesized that mothers would be more talkative, use more supportive speech, and more negative speech.  Fathers were expected to be more directive, ask more questions, and use more informing speech.  Parent-child differences were expected as well.  Parents were expected to give more information, talk more, and use more supportive speech with their daughters.  When talking with sons, parents were expected to be more directive and use more informing speech.  A second hypothesis of the study predicted that in a dual working household, gender-typed communication would be less pronounced because of an assumed equality of child care responsibilities.
    The statistical analyses conducted consisted of univariate analyses of variance and Pearson product moment correlations.  The analyses of variance unveiled two significant findings as well as three differential patterns of communication.
    It was hypothesized that mothers would be more talkative and initiate more conversations with their children than fathers.  This study found that mothers did in fact talk more with their children and, therefore is consistent with previous research.  It was also predicted that mothers would use more supportive language than fathers.  The results of this analysis, although not significant, are in the predicted direction, supporting the hypothesis.  Tannen (1990) suggests an explanation for mothers engaging in more talk and, specifically, more supportive language, than fathers.  Men tend to feel more comfortable speaking publicly while women feel more comfortable speaking in private.  That is, men talk to preserve their independence and to negotiate and maintain status.  Therefore, they feel more comfortable speaking in large groups.  Women, on the other hand, use language to establish connections with others and to negotiate their relationships.  Women feel more comfortable speaking in small groups:
             People feel there closest connections at home, or in   settings where they feel [italics in original]
             at home in other words, with one or a few people they feel close to  and comfortable with in
             other words, during  private  speech.  (Tannen, 1990, p.77)
Therefore, the mothers in this study may have been more talkative with their children because women are more comfortable in the home environment with a small group than are men.
    There were no main effects for negative speech suggesting a similarity between mothers and fathers communication styles.  Mothers were expected to use more negative speech when addressing their children.  Parents in this study used little to no negative speech.  One may infer that this is evidence to suggest that gender-stereotypes are breaking down.  Also, parents were aware that a researcher would be analyzing their conversation with their child.  Therefore, parents may have acted in a socially desirable way and reduced the amount of negative speech that they used in conversation with their children.
    The data analysis revealed an inconsistency with the literature.  It was curious that a main effect was found for the amount of directive speech used by parents when addressing their daughters instead of their sons.  This suggests that parents gave more suggestions to their daughters.  Again, these results may indicate that women were more comfortable reading a story to their child.  It is reasonable to believe that the more talking that occurs, the more directive speech will be used.  Therefore, more directive speech may have been used with daughters simply because more conversation occurred between parents and their daughters.
    Also, the means for the amount of information given and the number of questions asked revealed that mothers, more than fathers, engaged in this style of communication.  This is contrary to the prediction.  Past research suggests that fathers tend to give more information and ask more questions with their children, especially when observed separately (Leaper et al, 1998).  These results may indicate that mothers are more interested in the conversation.  Because mothers see the activity as a way to establish connections with their children, they may give more information and ask more questions in order to prolong the conversation.
    In addition, the Pearson product moment correlations revealed a positive correlation between the amount of talking and the amount of supportive speech parents engage in with their children.  This similarity suggests that even though father's conversations tend to be shorter, they support their children equally as much as mothers.
    The data also suggested that for mothers, in particular, positive correlations between the amount of talking and supportive speech, directive language and giving information existed.  As stated earlier, mother's conversations, on average, last longer than father's conversations with their children.  One may speculate that if fathers were more comfortable in private conversations, their conversations would last longer and more of these language variables would be present.
    The present findings may be explained in terms of styles of gender-typed communication.  Traditional gender roles were represented.  As suggested by Tannen (1990), fathers use of communication was goal-oriented.  They viewed reading the book and using the felt-board as an activity with an end result.  For fathers, the book elicits the reader to be in control and the listener to receive the information, which is consistent with the male stereotypic gender role.  Women, as well, maintained their stereotypic gender role of conversing more in private.  The book provided the opportunity for mothers to establish connections with their children through the activity. The nature of the task, as well, may have compelled mothers to talk more with their children.  Even though a gender-neutral book was provided, mothers still may have been more comfortable reading to their children because it utilizes private verbal interaction.
    Furthermore, McConnell-Ginet (1984) stated that the different socialization processes for males and females produce women who conceive of communication as a cooperative activity, while men view it as a competitive activity.  This theory may provide partial explanation of why mothers talk more with their children than do fathers.  This may also suggest that children have internalized this gender stereotypes as well.  Daughters are socialized to cooperate with their parents, and it follows that daughters talked more with their parents.  Sons, conversely, are socialized to engage in competitive activities.  Therefore, they may not have enjoyed the cooperative activity of reading the book with their parents.
    In addition, the task was audiotaped.  Two limitations to the study may have resulted.  First, parents may have communicated in a socially desirable way because they knew that the researcher would hear the interaction.  Secondly, non-verbal cues could have occurred without the knowledge of the researcher.  For example, a parent could point to a felt board piece instead of verbally directing the child to the piece.  These cues would have provided the child with additional information that could not have been recorded on the audio-cassette tape.  It is possible that the results could have been impacted by this data.
    On a cautionary note, the results of this study need to be considered with the inherent limitations found in studies with small samples.  It must also be emphasized that the findings are restricted to a middle class population.  Also, the parent-child dyads studied were all from homes where the mother, father, and child were living.  Due to the limited population and time constraints, the results may not be able to be generalized to the wider population.
    Therefore, it would be interesting to examine the effect of gender-typed communication across ages in future research.  The findings within this study may very likely be age-specific.  Some research suggests that socialization changes as children develop (Fagot et al, 1991).  Therefore, parents may adjust their style of communication as the child develops.
    Additionally, a study concentrating solely on father/child relationships would greatly benefit the body of empirical research.  Because research is limited in this area, a greater understanding of father-child communication styles would clearly establish the role fathers have in their child's language development.
For children with language difficulties, environmental background is an important feature of their case history.  Therefore, a complete understanding of the styles in which parents communicate with their children is important to the process of therapy.
    In sum, the study adds scope and support to the literature which suggests that mothers and father socialize their children in such a way that they pass on gender-stereotypic roles through their communication styles.  Unfortunately, the results failed to confirm that a dual working household would produce less stereotyped communication styles.  This study found that parent's style of communication has differences as well as similarities.  Therefore, the child is exposed to a learning environment where two styles are presented, both of which can have a positive effect on the child's language development.  The end result is that children learn how to speak as they have been spoken to.
The language styles utilized by parents reflect the theory that men are thought to be task-oriented and independent while women are thought to be relationship oriented and affiliative.  Both mothers and father chose language that reflected these beliefs depending on the gender of their child.  Knowledge of the difference in the way in which parents communicate with their children may make parents more aware of gender differences.  Perhaps this could lead to the reduction of gender-role barriers for both men and women.

TABLES

Table 1
Mean Amount of Talking Across the Four Levels of the Parent/Child Relationship
 

DYAD
M
SD
n
Mother/Daughter
9.17
5.56
6
Father/Daughter
 6.25 
2.99 
4
Mother/Son
9.40
  3.36
5
Father/Son
3.80
 0.84
  5

Table 2
Mean Amount of Supportive Speech Across the Four Levels of the Parent/Child Relationship
 

DYAD
M
SD
n
Mother/Daughter
8.00
3.74
6
Father/Daughter
4.50
4.73
4
Mother/Son
9.00
6.28
5
Father/Son
3.00
2.00
5

Table 3
Mean Amount of Negative Speech Across the Four Levels of the Parent/Child Relationship
 

DYAD
M
SD
n
Mother/Daughter
1.17
1.17
6
Father/Daughter
0.00
0.00
4
Mother/Son
0.60
0.89
5
Father/Son
0.40
0.55
5

Table 4
Mean Amount of Directive Speech Across the Four Levels of the Parent/Child Relationship
 

DYAD
M
SD
n
Mother/Daughter
7.67
5.43
6
Father/Daughter
7.50
7.14
4
Mother/Son
2.00
1.87
5
Father/Son
2.00
2.12
5

Table 5
Mean Amount Information Given Across the Four Levels of the Parent/Child Relationship
 

DYAD
M
SD
n
Mother/Daughter
4.17
2.14
6
Father/Daughter
 1.00
0.82
Mother/Son
6.60 
10.95 
Father/Son
0.00 
0.00 

Table 6
Mean Amount of Questions Asked Across the Four Levels of the Parent/Child Relationship
 

DYAD
M
SD
n
Mother/Daughter
11.17
8.04
6
Father/Daughter
6.00
6.48
4
Mother/Son
9.20
10.08
5
Father/Son
5.80
9.15
5

Table 7
Correlations Between Parents and Daughters  (n=10 for number of dyads)
 
SUBSCALE
Amt of Talking
Supportive Lang
Negative Lang
Directive Lang
Giving Info
Asking Questions
Amt of Talking
--
.78**
--
--
.65*
.85**
Supportive Lang
 .78**
 --
 --
-- 
.65* 
.84** 
Negative Lang
 --
-- 
-- 
-- 
.80** 
-- 
Directive Lang
 --
-- 
-- 
-- 
-- 
.86** 
Giving Info
 .65*
 .65*
.80** 
-- 
-- 
.73* 
Asking Questions
 .85**
 .84**
-- 
.86** 
.73* 
-- 
note.  ** Correlation is significant at the 0.01 level (2-tailed).
             * Correlation is significant at the 0.05 level (2-tailed).

Table 8
Correlations Between Parents and Sons  (n=10 for number of dyads)
 

SUBSCALE
Amt of Talking
Supportive Lang
Negative Lang
Directive Lang
Giving Info
Asking Questions
Amt of Talking
--
.83**
--
--
.85**
--
Supportive Lang
.83**
--
--
--
.72*
--
Negative Lang
--
--
--
--
--
--
Directive Lang
--
--
--
--
--
--
Giving Info
.85**
.72*
--
--
--
.69*
Asking Questions
--
--
--
--
.69*
--
note.  ** Correlation is significant at the 0.01 level (2-tailed).
             * Correlation is significant at the 0.05 level (2-tailed).

 Table 9
Correlations Between Mothers and their Preschool Children  (n=10 for number of dyads)
 
SUBSCALE
Amt of Talking
 Supportive Lang
 Negative Lang
 Directive Lang
 Giving Info
 Asking Questions
Amt of Talking
 --
.71* 
-- 
.73* 
-- 
.86** 
Supportive Lang
.71* 
-- 
-- 
-- 
.63* 
.76** 
Negative Lang
 --
-- 
--
-- 
-- 
-- 
Directive Lang
 .73*
-- 
-- 
-- 
-- 
.69* 
Giving Info
 --
.63* 
-- 
-- 
-- 
.75** 
Asking Questions
 .86**
.76* 
--
.69* 
.75**
-- 
note.  ** Correlation is significant at the 0.01 level (2-tailed).
             * Correlation is significant at the 0.05 level (2-tailed).

Table 10
Correlations Between Fathers and their Preschool Children  (n=10 for number of dyads)
 

SUBSCALE
Amt of Talking
Supportive Lang
Negative Lang
Directive Lang
Giving Info
Asking Questions
Amt of Talking
--
.70*
--
--
--
--
Supportive Lang
.70*
--
--
--
--
--
Negative Lang
--
--
--
--
--
--
Directive Lang
--
--
--
--
.86**
--
Giving Info
--
--
--
.86**
--
--
Asking Questions
--
--
--
--
--
--
note.  ** Correlation is significant at the 0.01 level (2-tailed).
             * Correlation is significant at the 0.05 level (2-tailed).


REFERENCES
    Bandura, A.  (1977).  Social Learning Theory.  Englewood, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
    Bellinger, D.C. & Gleason, J.B.  (1982).  Sex differences in parental directives to young children.  Sex Roles, 8 (11), 1123-1139.
    Bradbard, M.R., Endsley, R.C., & Mize, J.  (1992).  The ecology of parent-child communication about daily experiences in preschool and day care.  Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 6(21), 131-141.
    Bukatko, D., & Daehler, M.W. (1998).  Child Development:  A Thematic Approach.  Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
    Chomsky, N.  (1968).  Language and Mind.  New York:  Harcourt, Brace, & World.
    Ely, R., Gleason, J.B., Narasimhan, B., & McCabe, A.  (1995).  Family talk about talk: Mothers lead the way.  Discourse Processes, 19, 201-218.
    Fagot, B.I., & Hagan, R.  (1991) Observations of parent reactions to sex-stereotyped behaviors: Age and sex effects.  Child Development, 62, 617-628.
    Fagot, B.I., Leinbach, M.D., & O’Boyle, C.  (1992).  Gender labeling, gender stereotyping, and parenting behaviors.  Developmental Psychology, 28(2), 225-230.
    Fash, D.S. & Madison, C.L.  (1981).  Parents’ language interaction with young children: a comparative study of mothers’ and fathers’.  Child Study Journal, 11 (3), 137-153.
    Gleason, J.B., & Melzi, G.  (1997).  The mutual construction of narrative by mothers and children: cross-cultural observations.  Journal of Narrative and Life History, 7(1-4), 217-222.
    Halverson, C.F., & Waldrop, M.F.  (1970).  Maternal behavior toward own and other preschool children: The problem of “ownness.”  Child Development, 41, 839-845.
    Leaper, C., Anderson, K.J., & Sanders, P.  (1998).  Moderators of gender effects on parents’ talk to their children: A meta-analysis.  Developmental Psychology,  34(1), 3-27.
    Leaper, C., & Gleason, J.B.  (1996).  The relationship of play activity and gender to parent and child sex-stereotyped communication.  International Journal of Behavioral Development, 19(4), 689-703.
    Maccoby, E.E., & Jacklin, C.N.  (1987).  Gender Segregation in childhood.  In H.W. Reese (Ed.), Advances in child development and behavior (Vol. 20).  Orlando, FL: Academic Press.
    McConnell-Ginet, S.  (1984).  The origins of sexist language in discourse.  Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 433, 123-135.
    Reese, E., & Fivush, R.  (1993).  Parental styles of talking about the past.  Developmental Psychology, 29(3), 596-606.
    Tannen, D.  (1990).  You Just Don’t Understand – Men and Women in Conversation.  New York:  Ballantine Books.
    Tannen, D.  (1996).  Gender and discourse.  New York: Oxford University Press.
    Walker, K., & Armstrong, L.  (1995).  Do mothers and fathers interact differently with their child or is it the situation that matters?  Child: Care, Health, and Development, 21 (3), 161-181.

APPENDICES
APPENDIX A
Parental Consent Form
October, 1999
Dear Parents,

Hello, my name is Erin Dubovick, a senior psychology major at Saint Anselm College.  To fulfill my requirements for graduation, I am completing a senior research project.

The purpose of my study is to investigate parental -child communication styles, and I am interested in the way in which preschoolers engage in conversation with their parents.  The ideal participants range in age from 3-5 years old.

If you choose to participate, I will provide you with a questionnaire, two books and corresponding felt-board pieces, a felt-board, two audio-cassette tapes, and audio-cassette tape recorder.  Two books and sets of felt-board pieces are provided so that each parent, if available, can participate in the activity.  Please begin by completing the questionnaire.  Then, I ask that each of you read one of the books with your child while using the felt-board and pieces that accompany the story.  Please begin taping when you begin reading the book and end when you have completed the activity.  It is very important that the entire reading be recorded without interruption.  The total time for the activity is approximately 20 minutes.

The Director of Early Adventures has reviewed and approved this study.  All psychological research at Saint Anselm College is conducted according to strict ethical principles outlined by the American Psychological Association and is in full compliance with Federal Law.

The anonymity of you and your child will be protected to ensure confidentiality.  In addition, all data will be collected in aggregate form.  You may discontinue participation at any time throughout the activity.

Please contact me or Professor Elizabeth Ossoff, Ph.D. at Saint Anselm College if you have any questions or concerns.  Also, please contact me if you would like the results of the study.  My address is: Saint Anselm College, 100 Saint Anselm Drive #1786, Manchester, NH  03102-1310.

Your help will greatly assist me with my senior project.  Please accept the felt-board and book as a gesture of my appreciation.  Thank you for your time and cooperation.  Please return the attached form with a parent or guardian’s signature as soon as possible.

Sincerely,

Erin Dubovick

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

I,  _________________________ and _________________________ along
       Parent/Guardian                                                             Parent/Guardian

with my son/daughter _________________________ agree to participate
                                         Child’s Name

in Erin Dubovick’s study on parental-child communication styles.  I

have read and understood the explanation  printed above and agree to

participate in the study.
 

_____________________             ____________________________________
 Date             Parent/Guardian                                  Signature

_____________________             ____________________________________
 Date            Parent/Guardian                                  Signature
 

APPENDIX B
Parental – Child Communication Styles Questionnaire

1.  Age of your child:  __________ years __________ months
 

2.  Your child’s gender:  __ male __ female
 

3.  Your child’s number of siblings:  __ 1  __2 __ 3 __ other ______
 

4.  Birth-Order of your child: __ 1st   __ 2nd  __ 3rd   __other ______
 

5. Who lives in the home?  Please check all that apply to your child:

__ mother

__ father

__ brother(s)    How many?__________

__ sister(s)       How many?__________

__ grandmother

__ grandfather

__ aunt(s)         How many?__________

__ uncle(s)        How many?__________

__ cousin(s)      How many?__________

__ other _______________   How many?__________

__ other _______________   How many?__________
 

6. Time of recording:
    _______________  am   pm

7. Date of Recording:
    _______________

8.  Please indicate any problems with the apparatus:
 

APPENDIX C
October, 1999

Dear Parents,

Thank you for volunteering to take part in my senior research project.  Your participation in helping to complete this project  is greatly appreciated!

Below are the instructions for the activity:

I have provided you with a questionnaire, two books and corresponding felt-board pieces, a felt-board, two audio-cassettes, and an audio-cassette tape recorder.  Two books and felt-boards are provided so that each parent, if available, can participate in the activity.  Please begin by filling out the enclosed questionnaire.  Then, I ask that each of you read one of the books with your child.  Start recording when you begin to read the book and use the accompanying felt board and pieces.  It is very important that the entire reading be recorded without interruption.  End the recording once you have finished the activity.  The total time for the activity is approximately 20 minutes.

Please return the questionnaire, audio-cassette tape, and recorder by October 29th to Early Adventures.

Again, thank you so much for your participation!

Sincerely,

Erin Dubovick

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