It’s hard to believe that even in today’s open society where people feel more free to be themselves, we are still bombarded with the sort of gender stereotypes that were still just as prevalent 50 years ago. Pink is for girls, blue is for boys. Dolls are meant to be played with by little girls, and trucks and action figures are reserved for – you guessed it – little boys. Don’t let anyone catch a boy trying on his mother’s high heels for fun, or a girl watching a football game attentively, longing to be a part of the team. Because those things are not for their genders, right?
Wrong. But you knew that already, didn’t you? There is no research to suggest that a boy with an interest in playing dress up, or even makeup and nail polish, will grow up to be the next crazed serial killer. Likewise, a young girl who prefers sneakers to ballet slippers will not later become some ball-busting masculine-driven woman. Though even if she did, what is the real harm in that?
The solution is to start early with your children, by refusing to give into the gender-biased rules set by society and retailers. It may be hard, because other parents are nothing if not incredibly judgmental of the moms and dads around them. But stick to these tips to try your best to live by and you may just be gifted with a well-rounded, intelligent child. Go figure, right?
1. Integrate All Toys
This means that if you have a son, allow him the opportunity to explore what is deemed as the “girls” toy section at department stores. Don’t be so quick to steer him in the direction of those super hero masks. But to be fair, maybe after he has had the chance to peruse the latest Barbie Dolls, let him wander over to the other options.
If you give a little girl a doll, she will take care of it and remain motherly and affectionate as if that baby doll were her own real child. If you hand one to your young son, he will cradle it and be maternal and loving and treat it as if it were his own real child.
But first he needs to have the opportunity to do this, to explore a softer side of himself, and at a young age too. The earlier they can learn that there are no boundaries in playtime, the quicker they will catch on that it is entirely okay to mix their building blocks with their tea set.
2. Shop In Both Sections
This goes for both clothes and toys, but you already know a bit about the toy situation, eh? Target recently announced that it will soon be doing away with gender-based sections of their children’s departments, opting for signs that say something like “Kids Clothing” instead of the requisite “Boys Clothing” and “Girls Clothing.”
And rightfully so. The whole assumption that all boys should wear blues and greens and girls should stick to pinks and purples is simply outdated. We’ve all seen the rather tacky shirts that say things like “real men wear pink,” but maybe they’re on to something.
If we can start the notion early that boys are allowed to wear pastels and shades of blue and girls are permitted to opt for simply graphic tees over their frilly capped shirts, then there will be less room for gender-biased actions later.
3. Promote Sports And Culture Together
It may come as no surprise to see this mentioned yet again, but we cannot stress enough how important it is to make it clear to your children early on that they have the option to participate in any extracurricular activities that they are interested in. No, this doesn’t mean forcing your son into a tutu or steadfastly convincing your daughter that she wants to be an umpire, but give them the choice to try out a little of everything.
Take your son to both a football game and a ballet recital. Let your daughter experience a baseball game, and follow it up with a cheer-leading competition event. Whatever gender-themed activity you thought you had to steer clear from because your child isn’t the “right” gender, well, think again.
Give yourself some breathing room mentally and give your child the chance to choose for themselves.
4. Promote All Colors For Both Genders
Yes, this goes for clothing, as we mentioned before, but it also applies to pretty much everything else in life. Your first mistake may be in painting the nursery blue upon the news that you’re having a boy.
Don’t get us wrong, blue is a great color and if you really enjoy it, then by all means, go ahead. But if the only reason you chose it was because it is “for boys” isn’t the right reason. Skip ahead a few years, as you’re taking your son shopping for school supplies.
If he selects the pink pencil case, don’t be so quick to try and sway him away from it and to a more “masculine” color. We get it that you may be envisioning other kids teasing him, but the last thing you want to do is stifle him in any way.
5. Expose Them To The Correct Terminology
When you’re doing pretty much anything with your kids, from choosing a bike to picking out curtains, there is inevitably the mention of something being a “girl color” or a “boy bike.” This of course goes back to these ideas already being firmly implanted in us.
We get it, you can’t help but think of that as the first thing that comes to mind. But the whole idea is to train yourself to stop thinking that way as you raise your children to think freely and as neutrally as possible.
Be generous with your praises of both your daughter and son being “beautiful.” Even throw in some “pretties” now and again. The more you use such terms neutrally, the more naturally they feel.
6. Share Chores With Your Spouse
As your children grow, it is important for them to see both genders in every type of role in the home. If you and our spouse are the same gender, then it is still plenty important for your children to simply see housework and responsibilities shared.
Don’t designate the more masculine of you two to take out the garbage and open jars because you are a “big strong man.” Let your children see Mom putting together that new kitchen table while Dad is folding laundry in the living room.
Gender stereotypes play such a huge role in the home that this is almost a no-brainer, and it really does take little effort to simply share the work, regardless of who society thinks is the stronger of you two.
7. Let Them Be Themselves
Even if it is questionable, or weird. If your son is adamant in his interest in getting his nails painted while you are working on yours, then give in without a beat. Like we said, there is no scientific evidence to say that doing so would hurt him. On the contrary, it would be promoting him to be himself and follow what he feels is natural to him.
If your daughter truly wants to wear those striped leggings with that polka-dotted tunic and bright orange sneakers, then guess what? She’ll be fine too. There is always the worry, of course, that their peers may find them off putting or even resort to name-calling.
But, guess what? Kids will do those sorts of things no matter what. Allowing your child to follow their imaginations and hearts is setting the foundation for them to not become those kids.
8. Don’t Use The Logic Of “You’re Supposed To. . .”
Once again, this promotes the idea in your child’s head that because they are a certain gender, they “should” be interested in something or someone. It sets the stage for your child denying themselves of a certain happiness that comes with being yourself and being confident as a result.
Instead of telling your child what they are supposed to be doing, as told by society, give them choices so that they can decide for themselves what they should really be doing, based off of their own inner thoughts and feelings.
9. Remember That You Are Leading By Example
It is one thing to put these sorts of tips to use and to even follow through with them when it comes to your child, but the moment you succumb to these gender-biased rules and stereotypes yourself, you’re setting yourselves back a few hundred steps.
Don’t let your daughter catch you pouting to your husband that something is too heavy and you need his “manly arms.” And be sure to refrain from ever telling your wife – in front of your kids or not – that she’s good at cooking because she is the woman and that it’s simply a compliment. Such things only perpetuate the society-generated stereotypes that you as parents should be working hard to quell.
Is this the be all end all list of tips to raise your child to be perfectly perfect? Of course not. But helping them form an open mind about themselves and everyone around them is certainly a decent start.
Featured photo credit: The Birthday Backhoe/Nate via flickr.com