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You are probably familiar with the term “man cave.” It is surprising to me that we have not heard anything about gender stereotyping in adult activities. It will never cease to amaze me how concerned many people are about “gender stereotyping in toys.” Let’s face it, the majority of adult women choose to be feminine and the majority of men choose to be masculine, and we do not express outrage about that.

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I am not arguing that we should make sure all boys’ toys are blue and all girls’ toys are pink – far from it. What I am saying is that, as the mother of two girls and two boys, I have observed that they are inherently different. Give my children a pile of rocks and the boys will build racetracks for their cars and the girls imaginary tea party treats for their dolls. Yes, my daughters played with toy cars, caught lizards and spiders, and my boys loved dressing Barbie dolls and playing house with their sisters, especially when the houses were designed from cardboard boxes from newly delivered appliances. As they grew older and their social circle inevitably became more “gender specific,” interests for my boys changed to playing and watching sports, and my girls to shopping with their friends and giggling a great deal.

If you are concerned about gender stereotyping, more than likely it is due to encountering it in either your child’s school or social circle. Your concern is understandable, just not something I myself ever had to deal with. Thinking back over the raising of my now-adult children, I realize much of my lack of concern is because of how my husband and I dealt with raising our children. Making sure gender stereotyping does not cripple your child’s interests and activities begins at home.

As a parent of boys, girls, or both, you can send emotionally healthy messages to your children by doing the following:

  • Provide a variety of toys and games for your child without making decisions based upon gender. My youngest granddaughter loves bugs. Okay, so she started out eating them, but she has moved beyond that to collecting and researching using books and magazines provided by her mother. Snakes and lizards are her new passion and we think she has the ability and interest to continue her pursuit of “science.”
  • Expose your child to books showing a variety of gender roles. There are many good books available for every age group.
  • Make sure your child observes your family appropriately accepting non-stereotypical gender roles. My husband does the laundry, and I fold the clothes. I am not a fussy house keeper, so my Air Force trained hubby vacuums and mops. I taught my boys to cook a turkey, mend their clothes, iron, and put on a button before they left home and my girls could change their own oil in the car and knew enough not to be taken advantage of by mechanics.
  • Teach all your children that emotions are normal and it is healthy and appropriate to express them. My husband cries and I can get just as loud as he can when we have a disagreement. Of course, we also let our children see the resolution to our conflicts.
  • Whenever your child expresses an interest, avoid gender-specific reactions. Two of my most masculine high school students (brothers) became nurses and love it. Encourage your children to express their points of view about gender roles and expectations.
  • Talk to your children about different careers and let them know there are no limitations to what they can do. At the same time, help them be realistic about their physical, psychological, and emotional capabilities. My eldest son wanted to be a pilot from the time he was extremely young. However, poor eyesight limited his ability to do so, a big disappointment at the time.
  • Provide recreational and social activities that are not gender specific. Boys can take dance class and girls can play high school sports. Find what makes them happy and successful and help them pursue it.
  • Avoid using gender specific slang, put-downs, etc. in your home and make certain your children model respectful gender attitudes in your home, at school, and in other social situations.

If you follow these tips, your desire to give your children the best life experiences possible will guide you to have a positive attitude about gender roles that becomes part of your life, as well as that of your husband and children. The more natural your approach to gender roles, the more your children will become strong and capable individuals, independent and satisfied with their career and life choices.

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