Mothers' Attributions to Their Young Children: The Verbal Environment as a Resource for Children's Self-Concept Acquisition


  • This work was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health and the John D and Catherine T MacArthur Foundation, Research Network Award on the Transition from Infancy to Early Childhood, Chicago, IL I thank Marian Radke-Yarrow for making the videotapes available and for helpful comments on the studies, as well as for providing sources of assistance in transcribing, coding, and data analysis I also thank Peggy Miller, Gail Owens, Rochelle Levin, Ona Brown, Susan Staib, Morris Rosenberg, Frank Dudek, Ronald Ianotti, Jean Welsh, and Barbara Belmont for their important contributions I am indebted to Susan Cowles, Olive Quinn, Morris Rosenberg, Sally Wall, and Alice Wilson for their helpful comments on drafts of this article

should be directed to Ruth C Wylie, 804 Beaverbank Circle, Towson, MD 21204


ABSTRACT There has been a century of theorizing that self-conceptions begin to develop early, heavily involve language, are important aspects of personality, and are much influenced by others' reactions Nevertheless, no one has heretofore probed the empirical characteristics and antecedents of mothers' language that might be relevant to their 2½1/2-year-old children's acquisition of self-conceptions In this research, such “maternal attributions” were located in video transcripts of 3 mother-child pairs, each interacting for 300 minutes (Study 1), and of 35 mother-child pairs, each interacting for 35 minutes (Study 2), all in a seminaturalistic setting Study 2 replicated and extended results from Study 1 regarding (a) types of occasion for maternal attributions, and (b) the attributions' specificity/abstractness, vocabulary content, substantive referent, explicitness/implicitness, evaluative tone, and direction toward the whole child or an aspect of the child Antecedent-consequent relationships were found between children's roles in occasioning attributions and the language specificity and evaluative tone of the attributions. Results are discussed in terms of the development of the self.