Gendered Differences in Parents' Encouragement of Sibling Interaction: Implications for the Construction of a Personal Premise System

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Fathers' and mothers' encouragement of sibling interaction was examined in two-child families when the younger sibling was 5 weeks old and the older sibling about 22 months old and then approximately 3 months later. Concordant with the theories of J. Block (1982) and J. H. Block (1983,1984), fathers' and mothers' own linguistic behaviour as well as their encouragement of their children's behaviour reflected gender-specific patterns with fathers demonstrating as well as encouraging more accommodative or agentic patterns and mothers demonstrating as well as encouraging more assimilative or communion- enhancing patterns. Among other things, fathers more actively directed the older sibling's attention to the younger sibling, particularly when both children were female. Likewise, fathers more than mothers more often responded to male infants' rather than female infants' movements and sounds, thus giving young boys more contingent responsiveness which is thought to promote mastery and independence. On the other hand, mothers more often vocalized to, and tried to establish contact with, the infant, especially when the older sibling present was female. Parents vocalized more often to children when mothers were paired alone with the children and fathers were paired alone with them, suggesting the importance of participation in smaller, rather than larger, family groups for the development of productive language skills. Finally, parental vocalizations, particularly those directed to the older sibling, decreased substantially over time, while parental vocalization to the infant increased over time, suggesting concerns for the quality of home linguistic environment when more children are added to the family.

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