Cultural Differences in Children's Emotional Reactions to Difficult Situations

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Abstract

Although cultures vary in terms of how their members appraise situations, communicate emotions, and act on them, little is known about how culture influences children's emotional reactions. This study examined beliefs about revealing emotion in 223 second-, fourth-, and fifth-grade children from three cultures (Brahman, Tamang, and the United States). Interviews yielded descriptions of how children would feel, whether they would want others to know their feelings, why they would or would not, and what they would do in difficult interpersonal situations. Findings revealed three distinct cultural patterns. Tamang were more likely to appraise difficult situations in terms of shame than were Brahman and U.S. children, who endorsed anger. Brahman children, however, were more likely to not communicate negative emotion than were Tamang and U.S. children. The responses of U.S. children appeared to be more problem focused and action oriented than those of Brahman and Tamang children. Age influenced the degree to which children used emotion-focused coping, and affected decisions about communicating anger in Tamang and U.S. children. Features of cultural contexts that influence children's sense of appropriate emotional behavior are discussed.

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