Field of Science

Children giving orders to Mom and Dad

During the last month, I have been studying requests. Requests are interesting because there are many ways of making them, including commands ("Give me that"), requests ("Please give me that"), indirect requests ("Could you give me that?"), and hints ("Wouldn't it be nice if I had one of those?").

I just ran across a description of a fairly old line of research that is worth quoting directly:

Studies of role playing (Andersen (1978, 1989), Corsaro (1985), Mitchell-Kernan and Kernan (1977) have made it very clear that children make use of the symbolic value of characters' control acts types and forms. In Andersen's study, children of four and five were assigned specific roles through puppets, and she played a complementary role. This allowed her to see, within each child, the representation of contrasting roles, such as Father and Mother and Child, Doctor and Nurse and Patient. Fathers received fewer orders but gave them more, and received few imperatives, but gave them. Doctors were the same. The Child addressed six times as many imperatives to Mothers as to Fathers, and eight times as many 'let's' forms to Fathers as to the Mothers.
It would appear that children not only think fathers outrank mothers on the dominance hierarchy but that they seem to think they themselves outrank their mothers. Why this is I leave to others to speculate on.

Ervin-Tripp, S, Guo, J., Lampert, M. (1990). Politeness and persuasion in children’s control acts. Journal of Pragmatics, 14, 307-331

(Photo borrowed from

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