5 ways to break gender stereotypes for kids
In recent times, it feels not a week goes by without the term ‘gender-neutral’ hitting the headlines. John Lewis has announced its intention to remove gendered labelling of it’s children’s clothes. But what exactly does gender-neutral parenting mean? And more importantly, is it good for our kids?
Gender-neutral parenting is an approach to child rearing that consciously avoids gender stereotyping. Many parents are rejecting societal norms such as pink princess themes for girls and blue, superhero themes for boys. There is a whole spectrum of methods employed by parents from avoiding gendered pronouns to encouraging children to play with both ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ toys. Overall though, the aim of gender-neutral parenting is to allow children to express themselves without being concerned about the traditional roles or expectations assigned to people based on their biological sex.
By limiting our children to particular gendered types of toys, clothes, hobbies, and even career aspirations, we can create confidence and self-esteem issues. Lise Eliot, the author of ‘Pink Brain, Blue Brain: How Small Differences Grow into Troublesome Gaps – and What We Can Do About It’, explains that the brains of boys and girls are incredibly similar and it is, in fact, social conditioning that makes children internalise gender roles. A recent BBC Two documentary No More Boys and Girls, showed Dr. Javid Abelmoniem conduct a series of experiments at a UK primary school to see if removing gender-neutral treatment would affect the way the 7 year olds think. He eradicated pink and blue from the classroom, replaced books about princesses with ones about action heroines and the results were fascinating and positive. Girls who previously described themselves in terms of their appearances began to think of themselves in more multi-dimensional ways and demonstrated higher self-confidence.
Here are five ways to encourage your kids to be free from gender stereotypes:
Create a gender-neutral environment at home
Gender-neutrality begins at home! Children learn by watching their families, so a home with where parents and siblings share equal domestic responsibilities, and pursue their interests openly, creates a gender-neutral lens with which to view the world. A gender-neutral home will allow kids to play whatever toys they like, practice hobbies of their own choosing and express themselves through their clothing. Providing an environment free from gender stereotypes allows little ones to develop an identity without limitations.
Offer a varied selection of toys
Parents often worry about their son playing with Barbie dolls or their daughter preferring to play with toy cars. It is completely normal for children to explore a variety of play options, particularly as they don’t comprehend gender norms like a grown up does. To encourage gender-neutrality in play we can ensure kids have access to many types of toys, from construction and technology, to social role-play, arts and crafts. The ‘Let Toys Be Toys’ campaign provides lots of useful information about this subject.
Let your children choose their clothes
Clothing for both children and adults are very clearly segmented for males and females. This segmentation is reinforced using specific colours and themes. Pinks, pastels, flowers and glitter are associated with girls whereas blues, greens, trucks and are commonly assigned to boys. ‘Let Clothes Be Clothes’ is a campaign encouraging retailers to ditch the gendered marketing of children’s clothes and embrace unisex clothing instead. A gender-neutral approach to clothing is to let our kids choose clothes they like and feel comfortable in, regardless of gender expectations.
Avoid using stereotypes
A tricky part of eradicating gender stereotypes lies in the language we use everyday. It is so easy to reinforce negative ideas about gender without even realising it! Turns of phrase like ‘throw like a girl’ or ‘man up’ may seem innocent enough, but to our children they convey damaging ideas such as men shouldn’t cry or women aren’t good at sports. If we avoid this clichés and common sayings it will instil our kids with concepts of gender-equality rather than gender bias.
Expose your kids to all of the possibilities in life
Creating an environment of gender-equality at home is one thing, but we also have the rest of the world to contend with! It is important to expose your children to gender-neutral scenarios outside of the home too. This can range from hobbies to professions, and helps to demonstrate real-life examples of how gender doesn’t have to define life choices. For example, taking a boy interested in design to a fashion show, or a girl who enjoys science to STEM clubs. Point out male nurses, female mechanics, and other exceptions in industries that are weighted unevenly towards one gender.
At Trunkaroo we strive to produce educational products that are not only appealing to both boys and girls, but also unrestrained by preconceived ideas about gender. We want to encourage children to explore all aspects of STEM subjects (that is science, technology, engineering and maths) and creativity and not just the narrow sets of interests prescribed by traditional gender roles. Check out our monthly subscription service for curious kids, packed full of hands-on projects.