Developmental changes in the personality of only children in China

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Yuching Zhang
Geldolph A. Kohnstamm
Ping Chung Cheung
Sing Lau
Cite this article:  Zhang, Y., Kohnstamm, G., Chung Cheung, P., & Lau, S. (2001). Developmental changes in the personality of only children in China. Social Behavior and Personality: An international journal, 29(7), 725-732.


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In order to study the perception of Chinese parents of their children, audio-taped free descriptions of children’s personality characteristics were obtained from 401 Chinese parents living in Beijing and Fuzhou. The free descriptions by parents showed that, as children’s age increased, different categories of descriptors were typically used. Only for children at ages 3-5 did negative descriptors associated with the so-called “little emperor” stereotype prevail in parents’ free descriptions. On the other hand, the proportion of negative descriptors in the Conscientiousness category increased with children’s age. This was an indication of the persisting importance given by Chinese parents to characteristics associated with school performance, effort, and diligence. The results showed that there were no signs of a spoiling attitude in Chinese parents. The high proportions of negative descriptions given by Chinese parents should be interpreted as an expression of great concern for the future of their children, rather than as a sign of hostility towards their children.

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