The world is constantly shouting messages at children that ‘this is what girls do’ and ‘this is what boys do’. Whilst this is so common and seen in shopping centres, advertising, films and society; it doesn’t mean that it is okay or healthy for your child’s development.
Breaking gender-based stereotypes promotes equality in the skills children learn and the possibilities they see for themselves. The notion of ‘girls’ toys’ and ‘boys’ toys’ limits the possible opportunities for learning for your child and places them in a ‘box’ of expectations. Children are constantly classifying and watching the world around them (especially at home) to make sense of the world and to establish their views and beliefs.
Here are some ways to break those stereotypes:
1. Make stereotypes less meaningful. Where possible, try choosing some toys that don’t look stereotypically gendered.
2. Be encouraging when your child asks for a toy or plays with a toy that doesn’t necessarily sit within the stereotypes attached to their gender as they will notice your reaction. It’s okay for a boy to play with a baby doll or a girl to play with a dragon.
3. Get involved with your child’s play, swap the stereotypes around, perhaps the soft toys could rescue the super hero’s or the boy could do the pretend cooking.
4. Have a range of toys available – regardless of gender. Have dress-ups for boys and girls (let them choose whatever they want from both collections), have dolls, have trucks, have fairies and train sets. Let them play with whatever they are interested in, rather than what the world says their gender should do.
5. Have open conversations with your children. When you go shopping for a new toy, let your child explore all areas of the shop. For example, perhaps your daughter wants a new toy, you could wander past the fighter jets and say how cool it would be for a girl to fly planes (and back it up with the fact that there are women who do that).
6. Look at the real world, make sure your child knows that they can be anything that they want to be. Have a balance in your house – try to limit the amount of ‘mum jobs’ and ‘dad jobs’, mix it up and show that equality is real.
7. Adjust what you say. Be aware that comments about girls ‘looking very pretty’ and boys ‘growing to be big and strong’ can make children believe that their other characteristics are less important.
8. Say ‘children’ rather than ‘girls and boys’ and use the neutral pronoun ‘they’ rather than specifying he or she when talking generally about toys, films and society.
9. Don’t judge any of their ideas about what they might like to do and be when they’re older based on which gender currently dominates a career field.
10. Let your daughter and son have the same opportunities. If they want, enrol them both in soccer or ballet class. Let them both enjoy painting. Teach them that sports and hobbies are not gendered.
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