Mothers, fathers, sons and daughters: Parental sensitivity in families with two children

Elizabeth T. Hallers-Haalboom, Judi Mesman*, Marleen G. Groeneveld, Joyce J. Endendijk, Sheila R. van Berkel, Lotte D. van der Pol, Marian J. Bakermans-Kranenburg

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Most studies on early childhood parenting include only mothers. Fathers are rarely observed in interaction with their young children, although they play an important role in the socialization of their children. In this study, we observed parenting of mothers and fathers toward their sons and daughters in families with two children, using a within-family approach in a sample with systematically varying family constellations. Participants included 389 families with two children (1 and 3 years of age). Parenting practices were coded during free play using the Emotional Availability Scales (Biringen, 2008). Findings revealed that mothers showed higher levels of sensitivity and lower levels of intrusiveness toward their children than fathers. Furthermore, mothers and fathers were more sensitive and less intrusive toward their oldest child than toward their youngest child. Fathers' higher intrusiveness toward the youngest child was only found in the case of a youngest boy. Child gender was not related to parenting in any of the other analyses. Our results suggest that parent gender is more salient than child gender in the prediction of parenting practices in early childhood.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)138-147
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Family Psychology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Birth order
  • Fathers
  • Gender
  • Mothers
  • Sensitivity


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