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American Children are Intelligent and Aussie Kids are Happy?

By Yvette Vignando - 15th April 2013

I am loving this – the most common description a sample of Australian parents used for their child was “happy”. How great is that!? I may be biased. But what about the Italians and the Americans? The Spanish, the Swedish, the Dutch?

Researchers at the University of Connecticut’s School of Family Studies collect data on parents' and teachers' ideas on many aspects of child and family life - in 1995 they started a project bringing together researchers from different countries to conduct an International Study of Parents, Children and Schools; the Australian Institute of Family Studies was also involved. One of the study’s findings is that cultural background influences how parents tend to talk about their children’s personality and behaviour.

Apparently American parents have a tendency to talk about their children in terms of their cognitive abilities – their intelligence: “the highest frequency American descriptors included ‘intelligent’ and ‘cognitively advanced’ as well as ‘asks questions’”.  In contrast Italian parents almost never described their children as “intelligent” or advanced; instead the Italians said their children are ”easy, even-tempered, well-balanced, and ‘simpatico’ - a group of characteristics suggesting social and emotional competence.”  Dutch mums and dads were similar and tended to use descriptions like “agreeable” and “enjoying life.”  And apparently Spanish children are either the easiest - one fifth of the parents surveyed said their kids were “easy” – or the most “difficult”, a term that rated in the top ten for Spanish parents. The researchers guessed that this might be because for Spanish parents a child’s manageability was forefront in their minds.

And finally: the Aussie parents did use “easy”  as a frequent descriptor and were also focused on cognitive competence but “Unlike all other samples, however, the Australian parents seemed to focus on the child’s emotional state and reactivity, as suggested by the descriptors ‘calm’ and ‘sensitive.’” And the most used term: “happy”.

Are you a Swedish, Dutch, Spanish, American, or Aussie parent? I’d be curious to hear from you about this. Here is a link to the paper and below is an infographic to look at. Send me some anecdotes or thoughts?

image freedigitalphotos.net

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