Boys play with cars, trains, and tools. Girls play with dolls, dress-up, and princesses. For many parents this rings true but what happens when your boy wants to play with dolls or your daughter is more interested in playing with cars?
Some parents this may make them feel uncomfortable because this goes against gender stereotypes. We must ask ourselves why does this make us so uncomfortable?
Society has assigned certain gender stereotypes and roles to each gender that are often arbitrary and superficial. As parents, we must question these stereotypes and roles and ask if they are in the best interest of our child. Many of these stereotypes can be harmful and limiting to our children.
To find examples of the stereotypes taught to little girls one must only look through a toy catalog or turn on the TV. Girls are often taught that their appearance is what matters most – that they must be pretty, stylish, and even “sexy”.
There are plenty examples to illustrate this: Bratz dolls, or the even creepier Bratz babies. There is the “sexy” makeovers of beloved cartoon characters like Dora the Explorer or Strawberry Shortcake.
If girls learn that their self worth is tied to superficial things such as their appearance they are never going to be able to achieve their potential. They may suffer from low self esteem, depression, or an eating disorder.
There are so many great toys out there but the problem ends up lying with the way they are marketed or have come to be associated solely with one gender. Young children have great interest in role playing which includes playing with baby dolls, kitchens, and cleaning. Yet, Boys are often discouraged from this kind of play because in our society boys are taught that being a “man” means shunning anything seen as feminine and this includes child care and housework.
This means that little boys are missing out of the great benefit of this type of role playing. Most little boys grow up to be fathers and child care and housework should not be something that is taught to be beneath them.
Little girls they are expected to play with these types of toys at the exclusion of other toys because of the stereotypes that they are “girl” toys. Things like blocks are often seen as boy toys, while girls are expected to “play house” which puts girls at a disadvantage because blocks and similar building and engineering toys have so many developmental benefits.
When it comes to “boy toys and girl toys”, we must really ask ourselves why is a particular toy gendered? Does this stereotype put a limitations on my child? The point is not to not let them play with a particular toy but instead to make sure that they have exposure to all kinds of toys and not limited based on their gender.
5 Tips for Empowering Boys and Girls
- Buy and expose your child to gender neutral toys or toys of all kinds as much as possible. Also do not be rigid on what you allow your child to play with. For boys, let them play with baby dolls. For girls, let them play with cars. Not only let them but encourage it!
2. If you find yourself uncomfortable with your child playing with a particular toy, ask yourself why that is and try not to let your own hangups prevent your child from their natural curiosity and exploration.
3. Read books, watch TV shows, and movies that portray positive and uplifting portrayals of gender. A Mighty Girl is a great resource for girls.
4. Talk with your child about stereotypes. One thing I learned since becoming a parent is you can’t shield your child from negative things nor should you want to. Being exposed to these types of things serve as great teachable moments. If you see a boy or girl being portrayed in a stereotypical or negative way, talk about it. On the flip side, of you see a positive portrayal be sure to point it out. These don’t need to be long discussions. They could be just simple statements like “Wow, she sure is courageous” or “He sure is a very nice friend”.
5. Be an example and role model. There is no replacement for modeling the type of person you want your child to be. Teach your daughter how to be a strong, kind, confident woman by being one yourself! Teach your son to be kind, compassionate, and strong by demonstrating those qualities. Be careful about what you say about others and about expressing criticism.
These are 5 simple ways to fight against gender stereotypes and help empower your child to be themselves and love what they love, regardless of their gender!
You might also like 12 books for strong girls.
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